Center Grove’s designated senior night for girls basketball didn’t go according to script Tuesday.
Nonetheless, history was made in the Trojans’ 54-53 loss to Perry Meridian.
Falcons’ coach Mike Armstrong picked up career victory No. 400 with his program snapping what had been a four-game losing streak to Center Grove.
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The emotional flipside to Armstrong’s accomplishment was the Trojans’ third straight loss after recently dropping games to North Central and Roncalli.
It wasn’t the way seniors Allison Utterback, Emma LeMasters, Val Clark, Madelyn Bitterling and Claire Contos wanted to go out.
“This is the group I’ve grown up with. When I got hired here eight years ago, those guys were fifth-graders, and literally if these lights were on and the doors were open, they were here,” Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders said.
“This is the group I’ve probably been the closest to as far as knowing them and having them in class. They’re like my daughters, and they’re going to go off and be great students, great people and great athletes. I wanted them to win this one so bad, but they’ve got bigger things in their future.”
The Trojans’ final lead in what was a tightly contested game throughout came off a layup from sophomore guard Emma Utterback. This made it a 46-45 ballgame with 4:40 remaining in the fourth, but Perry Meridian’s physicality down low proved too much.
Led by 6-foot junior forward Sadie Hill’s 27 points and 17 rebounds, the Falcons retook the lead and never relinquished it despite the Trojans keeping it close the rest of the way on an Allison Utterback drive and free throws from both Utterbacks and sophomore point guard Ella Thompson.
Cassidy Hardin’s reverse lay-in at 9.1 seconds made it 54-53 with a timeout called with 8.8 ticks showing.
Perry Meridian then inbounded the ball, performing a nifty exhibition of keep-away and managing to run out the clock before Center Grove could foul.
Armstrong, now one of only 16 coaches to achieve the 400-win milestone in the history of Indiana girls high school basketball, was proud of his club’s effort.
“We just hung together. When things weren’t going our way, we kept fighting. When things were going our way we kept fighting,” Armstrong said. “That game could have gone either way. We just happened to be ahead when it was over.
“To me, all I ever wanted to do was win the next game. All I wanted to do is win tonight, and all I want to do is beat Southport on Friday. Maybe this just means I’m old, I don’t know.”
Perry Meridian dominated the glass, outrebounding Center Grove, 39-19.
The Trojans would place two in double-figures with Allison Utterback scoring 16 and Bitterling 10. LeMasters contributed seven points and a team-high five boards.
Center Grove led, 24-19, at halftime despite shooting a blustery 11 of 31 from the floor (.355).
Capitalizing on seven Falcons turnovers in the second quarter alone, the Trojans broke free from a 14-all tie with transition buckets to take command.
An Allison Utterback hoop at 1:55 started a 6-2 scoring run to close the quarter, the other Center Grove baskets supplied by LeMasters and Bitterling.
Perry Meridian led only once in the opening half, that being 14-12 after senior guard Brandi Martin dropped in a baseline 3-pointer. The momentum was short-lived as Center Grove responded with consecutive baskets from Bitterling.
Center Grove finished the game 20 of 55 from the floor (.367) and cashed in on only 10 of 20 free throw opportunities.