Veteran leadership played a key role in Center Grove’s 49-41 season-opening girls basketball victory against visiting Southport on Tuesday night.
After nearly surrendering what was once a comfortable lead, the Trojans scored eight unanswered points in the last five minutes to secure the win.
“We got off to a solid start, struggled in the third, but pulled back together in the fourth,” said Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders. “Down the stretch, I think our veteran experience came into play.”
With three third-year starters and a fourth-year starter in their lineup, the Trojans’ experience was evident almost from the opening tip. Center Grove was efficient on offense and aggressive on defense while forcing four Southport turnovers in the game’s opening moments.
The Trojans held a modest five-point lead after one period and carried a nine-point advantage into intermission. However, multiple 3-point baskets by junior guard Shayla Wright early in the third and mounting foul trouble for Center Grove ignited a Southport rally.
The Cardinals trailed 36-34 heading into the final period and tied the game at 41-all when senior center Molly Bridges hit an inside shot with 5:07 left. However, costly turnovers in the game’s closing moments proved too much to overcome.
Junior Ali Line, senior Madi Kolthoff and sophomore Lauren Rau combined for six consecutive free throws during the final 1:11 as the Trojans regained control.
“Bri (Gliesmann) got in foul trouble early in the game, and that changed things for us,” Sanders said. “Later in the game, fouls were again an issue. We just can’t get all handsy on defense. We have to learn to play ‘next player up.’ We need nine to 10 players always ready to play.”
Kolthoff led the Trojans with 16 points, while Line added 12.
Center Grove hit only 14 of 43 shot attempts but drained 17 of 21 from the free-throw line.
Wright led all scorers with 17 points, but the Cardinals committed 25 turnovers.
The Trojans return to action Thursday when they host Warren Central at 7:30 p.m.