For the Daily Journal
Mackenzie Blazek scored 11 of her game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter to lift Whiteland to a 45-38 road win against Franklin Central in girls basketball Friday.
Blazek, the 6-foot-3 center who is headed to Illinois, was unstoppable in the fourth quarter as the Warriors rallied from a four-point deficit. Leading by 10 at one point in the third quarter, Whiteland (2-0) needed every point its star could muster in the final frame.
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“It seemed like in the third quarter that we just couldn’t get any offense,” said Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp, whose team managed just eight points in that quarter. “(Franklin Central) had a nice comeback and hats off to them, but I thought our girls responded really well. We were getting defensive stops, taking care of the ball and of course Mackenzie stepping up. I was proud of them.”
Natalie Stuck drilled her third 3-pointer of the game to give Whiteland a 27-17 lead wth 4:13 left in the third quarter, but the next six minutes belonged to Franklin Central. Using a pressure defense, the Flashes closed the third with a 13-3 run to tie the game at 30-30, then scored the first four points of the fourth.
Reeling, Shipp was forced to call two timeouts during the run and his girls finally responded. And all it took was returning to the basics.
“Just getting back to feeding (Blazek) and letting her do her thing in the post, that was the key,” Shipp said. “I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Toni Joyner started Whiteland’s comeback with a three-point play and on the next possession, Blazek hit a pair of free throws to give the lead back to the Warriors.
Andrea Adams responded on the other end with a basket to put Franklin Central back on top 36-35, but it proved to be the Flashes’ last gasp. Blazek hit three free throws over two separate trips to give the lead back to Whiteland, and the Warriors scored the next five points to finally pull away.
Franklin Central (1-2) managed just two points over the final five minutes as Whiteland escaped with the win.
Whiteland struggled at the free-throw line, going just 16 for 31, and turned the ball over 24 times. But even with Blazek nursing four fouls through most of the fourth quarter, the Warriors had enough to gain victory.
“We’re proud to get a road win. It’s a sectional opponent and the sectional is here this year.” Shipp said. “It’s one of those wins where we felt like we could grind out, and that’s what it became.”
Stuck finished with 11 points to give Whiteland two players in double figures.
Whiteland, now 2-0 on the season, competes in the Johnson County Tournament starting Tuesday at Franklin.