Greenwood will play in a girls basketball sectional championship game for the third straight season, but advancement to tonight’s Class 4A Whiteland Sectional final against Franklin Central proved tougher than either of the previous two trips.
The Woodmen, who won a 2012 sectional title and lost to the Flashes in last year’s final, held a 33-21 fourth-quarter lead Friday against New Palestine, only to watch the Dragons take a 38-37 lead with 1:13 remaining on a four-point play. Greenwood’s Holly Hoopingarner responded with a 16-foot jumper with 54 seconds to go, and the Woodmen held on from there for a 39-38 win.
Greenwood (10-11) will play Franklin Central (16-4), which defeated Franklin 62-42 in Friday’s other semifinal game, at 7 p.m. tonight. New Palestine, which defeated the Woodmen 55-47 in a Feb. 1 regular-season matchup, ended its season at 9-11.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the last few minutes, but we kept our composure pretty good,” said Greenwood senior forward Sarah McLeod, who scored 12 points for the Woodmen. “Those mistakes can’t happen (tonight.)”
After Hoopingarner’s jumper gave Greenwood the lead, New Palestine worked the ball around, then called timeout with 33.4 seconds remaining. Greenwood played stout defense, and the Dragons didn’t get off a shot until about six seconds remained, a contested driving layup by Natalie Kehrt.
She missed the shot, and Greenwood’s Brittany Gray rebounded and was fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining. She missed both free throws, but New Palestine could only fire a 50-foot shot to beat the buzzer that missed, and the Woodmen survived.
Greenwood coach Debbie Guckenberger thought Hoopingarner’s go-ahead basket was just as important psychologically as it was pragmatically.
“We got it in-bounds quick, drove and scored, and put the pressure back on them to score,” Guckenberger said. “We’re not going to call a timeout in that situation.
“I didn’t like our decision-making from about the five-minute mark until the one-minute mark, but we kept our poise at the end.”
Greenwood’s defense held New Palestine to only four field goals through the first three quarters but only led 28-21 because the Dragons frequently got to the free-throw line. Hoopingarner, Gray and Megan Overton played long stretches of the fourth quarter with four fouls for Greenwood, and Hoopingarner, Overton, McLeod and Madison Renfro each had two fouls at halftime.
The Dragons hit 14 of 22 foul shots but connected on only 6 of their final 14 tries after hitting their first eight to start the game.
Meanwhile, McLeod asserted herself offensively, hitting 5 of 8 from the floor despite sitting out the entire second quarter with foul trouble. Hoopingarner led all scorers with 13 points and dished out four assists.
“We made an effort all day to pound it in the post, and took that angle from the get-go,” Guckenberger said. “Sarah picked up those two fouls, but our bench players held their own. Everyone contributed.”
Kehrt led New Palestine with 11 points, including five in the fourth quarter. The Dragons, who shot just 4 of 22 in the first three quarters, hit 6 of 11 in the fourth period. Haley Stratman, who finished with eight points, scored seven in the fourth quarter, including the four-point play that briefly gave New Palestine the lead.
“On offense, we were driving the ball into three red jerseys in a situation where we should just bring the ball outside, and they capitalized,” Guckenberger said, referring to Greenwood’s offense during the Dragons’ comeback. “Defensively, we were in a zone, and we just lost them on the baseline too many times. We’ve got to know where the shooters are.”
Greenwood and Franklin Central didn’t meet in the regular season, but the Flashes defeated the Woodmen 53-36 in last year’s sectional final, which McLeod remembers well.
“We’ll be shooting in the gym (this) morning,” she said. “They’ll be a tough team.”