BY DAVID CAMPBELL
For the Daily Journal
Center Grove made up for three-and-a-half quarters of poor shooting with a 14-0 closing run to beat Greenwood 47-36 on Thursday in the semifinal round of the Johnson County Girls Basketball Tournament at Franklin.
The Trojans had trouble hitting shots from anywhere on the floor, be it 3-pointers, layups or free throws, and found themselves trailing 36-33 with 5:19 to play.
But Cassidy Hardin broke the spell with a 3-pointer to tie the game, then scored Center Grove’s next five points to give the Trojans the breathing room they needed to pull away from the upset-minded Woodmen.
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“Credit Greenwood. They set the tone defensively and throughout the game, and we really didn’t match it,” Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer said. “But credit our girls as well. They didn’t shoot well. They had to grind it out and do some of the intangible things, and we were able to take care of some things at the end.”
Greenwood (4-2), which had matched its win total from a year ago after just five games, was in control for most of the game, although the Trojans had their chances to pull away. After the two teams were tied 14-14 headed to the second quarter, Center Grove took a 28-22 lead into the locker room despite struggling from the floor.
The Trojans’ offense ground to a halt in the third, when the team mustered just three free throws. Greenwood, slowly pulled ahead, getting three huge free throws from Bailee Taft after time expired to go ahead 33-31.
The Woodmen got a three-point play by Leah Moore with 5:19 left to make it a 36-33 lead, but Stuckmeyer called timeout and his troops responded with their best stretch of the game.
Hardin got the rally started with a 3-pointer, and after a Greenwood turnover and foul, she hit two free throws and then drilled another trey to give the Trojans a 41-36 lead.
Everything fell into place for Center Grove after that. Ella Thompson knocked down a 3-pointer, and Emma Utterback, Hardin and Thompson each had free throws down the stretch to ice the win.
“It was really important not to panic. Greenwood probably would have shut the door on us if we had,” Stuckmeyer said. “There was still enough time left that it was important for us not to panic offensively and shoot quick, but let the offense come to us. … That might have been the difference.”
Center Grove (5-1) hit just 9 of 21 shots from the free-throw line, including only 5 of 11 in the fourth, but the Trojans forced nine turnovers in the fourth, and 22 overall, to keep themselves in the game.
Hardin finished the game with 18 points on four 3-pointers to lead Center Grove, while Moore also had 18 to pace the Woodmen.
Center Grove will face the winner of tonight’s Whiteland-Edinburgh game in the championship game Saturday. Greenwood plays the loser of that game for third place.