Center Grove uses long-range shooting to beat county rival

Center Grove girls basketball coach Kevin Stuckmeyer knew that Tuesday night’s meeting with Whiteland was bound to be far more competitive than the 60-29 Trojan blowout in the Johnson County Tournament title game was.

As expected, the Warriors made the host Trojans work a bit harder in the rematch, but some hot outside shooting in the first half gave Center Grove the cushion it needed in a 55-47 victory.

“I expected more of that type of game with them,” Stuckmeyer said. “We all know Whiteland, and the success they’re having this year and how talented they are. They’re a tough matchup for us with their two bigs down low. It’s not easy for us to deal with, and that showed tonight.”

The Warriors’ post duo of Mackenzie Blazek and Toni Joyner indeed caused some problems for the Trojans, combining for 28 points. But Center Grove was able to counter with strong guard play — and seven made 3-pointers in the first half.

The lead changed hands five times in the first five minutes before the Trojans (13-3) got a little bit of separation. Ella Thompson and Cassidy Hardin hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Center Grove a 15-8 lead.

Consecutive 3s from Claire Rake and Hardin early in the second quarter grew that advantage to 23-10, and the Trojans were able to maintain a double-digit cushion for the remainder of the half.

“We just didn’t attack the arc as well as we should have,” Whiteland center Mackenzie Blazek said. “We left them a lot of open 3s that we shouldn’t have given them, and they hit their shots, which — they’re good at that.

“When Cass is hitting, it’s a good game for us,” Center Grove guard Emma Utterback said. “And also Claire Rake or Ella … if I’m in transition and they’re making themselves open, it’s a lot easier for me.”

Whiteland (13-4) opened the third quarter with a Megan Harlow 3 to cut the gap to 33-24, and the visitors were still within nine when Hardin’s fourth 3-pointer and an Utterback bank shot built the Trojans’ lead back to 44-30 with 2:54 left in the period.

The Warriors got as close as six in the final minute thanks to some ramped-up defensive pressure, but time ran out on their comeback bid.

“Our goal was to have a competitive game in the fourth quarter, and I think it was,” Whiteland coach Kyle Shipp had. “We’ll go back to getting better tomorrow to beat Greenwood on Friday.”

Hardin finished with 14 points for the Trojans, while Thompson added 13 and Utterback had 10. Joyner paced Whiteland with a game-high 15 points, while Blazek added 13 points and 13 rebounds.

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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.