Defending Class 4A state champion Bedford North Lawrence stood waist-deep in familiarity for Saturday’s regional, playing on their court in front in front of a large and loud fan base.
The Stars then watched helplessly as second-ranked Center Grove left town with their nets.
Propelled by an 8-0 scoring run to open the second half, the Trojans pulled away from BNL for a surprisingly lopsided 48-27 victory to advance to a Saturday semistate semifinal against county rival Franklin.
Now 26-1 on the season, Center Grove took the floor poised and remained that way throughout. This will be the Trojans’ second straight semistate appearance and sixth overall.
“They’ve done it all year,” Trojans coach Kevin Stuckmeyer said. “They’ve answered every call, and it starts with our seniors with the culture they built — and to be honest with you, the culture former players have set.
“Just the toughness on the floor. The toughness off the floor. The doing it together. That’s one of our goals, to be able to have the toughness to block out all the noise and do it together. When you can do that, you can take care of a lot of things.”
Junior point guard Lilly Bischoff led Center Grove with 18 points, followed by senior post Rachel Wirts with 12 and junior wing Ava Grant with 10. Wirts pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds and Bischoff seven as the Trojans dominated the glass, 29-18.
Defensively, Stuckmeyer’s squad limited BNL to 9 of 40 misery from the floor (22.5%), holding four-year starter Chloe Spreen, a 5-foot-10 guard/forward signed to play at Alabama, to nine points on 4 of 17 shooting. Center Grove made 17 of 35 field goal tries (48.6%) and took advantage of its chances at the foul stripe, going 11 of 12.
The 27 points marked the lowest point production by a Bedford North Lawrence team since a 36-26 loss at Floyd Central midway through the 2018-19 season.
“We knew that coming down here, obviously, that it was going to be hard,” Wirts said. “But we knew that if we did what we know how to do with each person doing their individual job, then we knew that it was ours.”
“It’s being mentally strong enough to not let their fans get in our heads, or when adversity hits, that it doesn’t affect us.”
As the game wore on, Stars supporters were eventually dwarfed in the decibel department by Center Grove’s much smaller cheering section. With 26.1 seconds remaining and the outcome decided, Stuckmeyer pulled his starters.
Center Grove only trailed once — by a 3-2 count early — on its way to a 15-9 halftime lead.
The Trojans were able to hassle the Stars to into 1 of 7 shooting from the floor the opening eight minutes and into an uncharacteristic five turnovers during the second period.
Center Grove then opened the third period with a designed play that resulted in senior guard Audrey Annee making a 3-pointer from the top of the key only 12 seconds in.
Grant followed with a triple from the left corner, and Bischoff drove to the hoop for a layup. Bedford North Lawrence coach Jeff Allen called timeout at 6:04, but free throws from senior guard Aubrie Booker and a Wirts hoop down low made it a 27-9 game.
The Stars managed to get as close at a dozen points late in the third, 30-18, but the Trojans again scored eight straight to go up 20 early in the final quarter.
“I think a big thing with us coming into this game, we knew BNL would have a home-court advantage, and more fans than we would,” Booker said. “We knew we had to stick to our principles, worry about more the basketball side and just focus on our team.”
Center Grove did just that, and is moving on as a result.
Bedford North Lawrence, which finishes the season with a 20-5 record, was led by senior guard Madisyn Bailey with 14 points.