Quality post players have been a problem at times for the Center Grove girls basketball team, which has no one taller than 5-foot-10. So Whiteland junior Mackenzie Blazek, one of the state’s top centers, posed a legitimate threat entering Tuesday night’s county clash.
The Trojans were up to the challenge.
Cassidy Hardin scored 16 points, and her defense down low helped to hold Blazek in check for much of the night as Center Grove pulled away for a 55-43 road win.
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“I knew I would definitely have to be really physical down in the post and try to bump her off her spot,” Hardin said, “and make her a little uncomfortable whenever she got the ball.”
“We don’t match up with her at all,” Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders said of Blazek. “I think the games we play against Whiteland make me more impressed with Cass than any other game.”
Whiteland (6-9) had just taken a 14-13 lead when Blazek picked up her second foul just over a minute into the second quarter, and while the Warriors extended that lead to 18-13 on a Jessyca Napier 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the half, the advantage was short-lived.
Center Grove (13-3) roared back, tying the game on a Hardin 3 at the 3:53 mark and closing the period with a 15-4 surge, good for a 28-22 edge at the break.
“I think knowing that (Blazek) was in foul trouble,” Hardin said, “we kind of just settled down and we were like, ‘All right, she’s out of the game; now we’re just going to play basketball,’ because we knew that our five could beat their five.”
In the third quarter, Madelyn Bitterling hit a 3 to spark a 7-0 Trojan run that stretched the lead into double digits for the first time.
Whiteland began to claw back late in the period, but Hardin and Allison Utterback sank back-to-back shots from long range to put the visitors up, 43-28, entering the fourth.
“Coming out of the half, we talked about the first four minutes being a real key point to us, and they got the better of us in that portion,” Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp said.
Nine different players got into the scoring column for the Trojans, seven of whom scored at least five points. Sidney Crowe paced the Warriors with 16 points in defeat, while Blazek — back in the lineup after missing four December games with a shoulder injury — finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Despite his team having now lost four of five, Shipp is optimistic heading into the closing stretch of the regular season. The Warriors have eight more January games, with the next coming Friday at Greenwood.
“We’re looking to get better for the end of the year, and these games in January are going to help us get better,” Shipp said.