In the opening 18 minutes, the Class 3A girls basketball sectional final at Beech Grove had all the looks of a thriller.
But looks were deceiving.
Finding offensive traction in the second half, Indian Creek rolled to its second straight sectional championship with a 68-34 win Saturday night against Danville.
With the victory, the Braves (19-5) advance to the Feb. 16 Danville Regional. They play Greencastle (15-9) in the semifinal. Should they advance, they will meet either No. 1 Lebanon (21-3) or No. 6 Mount Vernon (Fortville, 19-4) in the final.
In the early going Saturday, the regional was an uncertain destination.
Indian Creek led 20-15 at halftime and clung to a fragile 22-19 advantage in the opening minutes of the third quarter before pulling away.
In a two-minute span in the third period, the Braves pushed the lead to 31-19 and outscored Danville 24-10 in the quarter.
It was all Indian Creek after that.
Seniors Ally Lehman and Brooke Mathena led the second-half charge for the Braves.
After going 3 of 9 from the field in the in the first half, Lehman hit all eight shots she took after halftime. Mathena drilled four second half 3-pointers, including three straight at one point.
The duo accounted for 28 of Indian Creek’s 48 points after the break.
Coach Dan Burkman attributed the Braves’ slow first half to over-confidence and a determined effort by Danville.
“We came out thinking we had already won the game,” Burkman said. “But someone forgot to tell Danville, because they were playing to win the game.
“I watched tape (Friday) night, and I wasn’t expecting as aggressive of a defense as they came out in.”
Still, Burkman had confidence the Braves would rebound in the second half.
“I told them at halftime ‘we held them to 15 points, we’re just not hitting any shots. We’re going to hit shots,’” Burkman said. “I had faith in them.”
Hit shots, they did. The Braves knocked down 20 of 32 second-half shots, good for 62.5 percent.
Lehman said there was nothing fancy about their strategy.
“Coach said to get to the middle of the lane and either get a shot or kick it out to Brooke,” Lehman said. “You can always rely on Brooke to knock down that shot.”
Mathena, who tore her ACL in last year’s sectional finals loss to Tri-West, said it was a fitting end to her rehabilitation.
“I’m very happy,” she said while clutching the sectional championship trophy. “This is revenge for last year.”
Lehman had game-highs in scoring and rebounding, with 22 points and 18 boards. Mathena scored 17 points and McGregor chipped in 11.
Sophomore Morgan Bear scored 11 for the Warriors (12-11), who shot just 20.6 percent (13 of 63) for the game.
Burkman said this season’s schedule, which included six games against Class 4A opponents, should help prepare the Braves for what figures to be a highly competitive regional.
“I hope games against Greenwood, Rushville and Martinsville have prepared us,” Burkman said, “because that’s the kind of game we’re going to be in.”