Heading into the Johnson County tournament championship game, the Center Grove girls basketball team made it a priority to slow down Whiteland center Mackenzie Blazek.

The Trojans decided that the best way to do that was to not allow the Warriors’ guards to get Blazek the ball to begin with.

Center Grove’s guards spearheaded a ferocious defensive effort, paving the way to an easy 60-29 victory at Franklin on Saturday night.

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“Definitely, their pressure defense hurt us, especially early on,” Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp said. “I think that’s what spelled the game right off the bat. We did not handle their pressure early very well at all.”

The Trojans (6-1) seized control from the get-go, responding to an early Mackenzie Blazek basket with a run 12 consecutive points, six each from Cassidy Hardin and Emma Utterback. Consecutive buckets from Ella Thompson and Utterback early in the second quarter stretched the Center Grove lead to 20-4.

Utterback, who Trojan coach Kevin Stuckmeyer credited with setting the tone defensively, had a couple of steals during that early run that she converted into points.

“For us to stop (Blazek) down low, we’ve got to stop it up top,” Utterback said.

“We’ve got to get that ball pressure so it’s harder to get it to her down low, so that was kind of my goal, to make it hard for the guards to pass it into the post.”

Whiteland (4-1) crept back to within 11 late in the half behind five straight points from Blazek, but Hardin hit her third 3-pointer just before the first-half buzzer to make it 25-11 at the intermission.

Thompson scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter as Center Grove built an insurmountable 43-19 advantage.

Hardin, who led the Trojans with 18 points, said that her team was determined to get it going early after needing a late fourth-quarter flurry to escape a semifinal upset bid by Greenwood.

“Against Greenwood, we kind of came out slow, and it wasn’t a game that we wanted to play,” Hardin said. “So we knew this game, we had to step it up. Whiteland’s a good team, so we definitely made sure we brought the energy.”

Blazek still finished with 18 points in defeat for the Warriors.

“She’s a fantastic player,” Stuckmeyer said. “She catches it deep, it’s two points — and she might be a better passer than she is a scorer, so that was really important for us to read that back side as well.

“Our girls did a really good job of pressuring the ball, the pressuring the quarterback idea, making it tough to just throw it in.”

Utterback finished with 12 points for the Trojans, while Karinna Frankel added six points and made Blazek work for everything she got down low. Megan Harlow, the only other Whiteland player to score before the fourth quarter, added six points.

Greenwood, led by a 26-point night from Leah Moore, was a runaway 70-41 winner against Edinburgh in Saturday’s third-place game. Indian Creek edged the host Grizzly Cubs for fifth, 55-52.

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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.