Junior Lauren Rau went nearly three quarters without scoring a single point Friday night.
Yet when crunch time reared its head at the Class 4A Greenwood Sectional, Center Grove’s starting point guard embraced the pressure in the Trojans’ 39-36 victory against recent postseason nemesis Franklin Central.
The win moves Center Grove (19-6) into tonight’s 7 p.m. championship game against New Palestine, a 46-26 winner against the host Woodmen in Friday’s second semifinal.
Rau tallied the final four points of the third stanza, then tacked on seven more in the pressure-packed final stanza — including a clutch baseline 3-pointer at 2:17 — to help extend her team’s season.
“They had beaten us the last four times we played them, so I definitely think that was in the back of our minds. I just think we were tired of losing and that we came together and played our basketball game,” said Rau, the lone Trojans player in double-figures with 11 points.
“It’s just nice to finally see our hard work pay off. We came in really loose and confident, and we knew we had to just play like we know how to play.”
After seeing their team eliminated by the Flashes the past two seasons by identical 48-40 scores, Center Grove supporters had to be sensing some déjà vu late in the second period.
What had been a 21-11 Trojans lead quickly evaporated into a two-point halftime advantage thanks to an 8-0 Franklin Central run during the final 2:57.
From that point on there were six lead changes, with the margin never exceeding six points.
The Trojans took the lead for good when a bucket from senior forward Ali Line made it 32-31 at 5:35 of the fourth quarter. Next came Rau’s triple, with the Flashes turning the ball over on the ensuing possession.
Rau converted both ends of a one-and-bonus free-throw situation with 1:30 remaining for a 37-31 lead.
Undeterred, Franklin Central countered with a 3-pointer from the corner from sophomore swingman Haley Sobieralski and a steal and hoop by point guard Keyla Hines.
Line again drove for two points but shortly thereafter was off the mark on what could have been the game-clinching free throw with 7.1 ticks showing.
Kennedy Archer, the lone senior starter for Flashes coach Brian Hacker, rebounded the miss, drove the court and was too strong on a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Center Grove is now in position to capture the program’s 18th sectional title and first since the 2010-11 season.
Sixth-year coach Shawn Sanders knows just getting to this point was the ultimate test of focus and fortitude.
“I think (Hacker) knew it was going to be like this, and we knew it was going to be like this. As I’ve said before, (Franklin Central) just doesn’t beat themselves. They’re so fundamental,” Sanders said.
“But 39-36 . . . my goodness. You talk about two teams that just grind it out. We try to prepare ourselves with a schedule that’s going to give us the confidence to go into a game like this. I think the fact they put us out of the last two sectionals, especially for the seniors, they didn’t want this to be their last game.”
One of Center Grove’s four seniors, forward Bri Gliesmann, finished with nine points with Line adding six and a Regan Wentland five. Sophomore guard Allison Utterback came off the bench to deliver two first-half 3-pointers.
Sobieralski converted three triples en route to a game-best 13-points, while Archer produced 11 as the Flashes finish the season 15-9.
The Trojans limited Franklin Central to .371 field goal shooting (13 of 35) while making 15 of 37 (.405).