When Emma Utterback opened the second quarter by finding Emma LeMasters for a layup in the open court, Center Grove found itself with a 14-10 lead against unbeaten North Central, the state’s No. 1 team.

The next seven minutes, however, were a nightmare for the Trojans, who watched the Panthers score 18 straight points and take control of what became a 70-44 rout.

“They just took us out of what we wanted to do and who we wanted to be,” Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders said, “and then we just couldn’t stop it.”

During the stretch that followed LeMasters’ basket early in the second, Center Grove (13-4) turned the ball over 12 times, several of those unforced, as North Central (20-0) gradually took over. The Panthers reclaimed the lead for good at 16-14 on a 3-pointer by Ajanae’ Thomas with 5:30 to go in the half and only stretched it out from there, pulling ahead by as many as 14 before Madelyn Bitterling ended the drought with a layup 58 seconds before intermission.

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An Ella Thompson 3 before the buzzer left Center Grove down 30-19 heading into the locker room. All things considered — including the Trojans’ 11 second-quarter turnovers — it could have been worse.

Center Grove finished the night with 26 turnovers in all.

“We started making a few mistakes,” LeMasters said. “We were on a roll, and then we lost it and we started pointing fingers. We’re still working on staying poised; that’s our biggest things right now.”

The Trojans briefly got back within nine on a LeMasters layup with 4:33 left in the third quarter, but North Central didn’t give up another field goal for the rest of the period, stretching the margin to 45-28 entering the fourth.

Rikki Harris led all scorers with 25 points for North Central, which also got 15 from Ajah Stallings and 13 from Thomas.

LeMasters finished with 10 points for Center Grove, which will attempt to bounce back Saturday when it travels to Roncalli.

“We can’t dwell on this,” Sanders said. “We’ve had a great season so far; we’ve still got a great team. … Sometimes you play teams that are just better than you, and they let you know it.”

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.