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Trojans fall far behind early, can’t recover in league loss

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Last year, an up-and-coming Center Grove girls’ basketball team put a scare into top-ranked Lawrence North, but the Wildcats righted themselves in time to earn a heart-stopping, 62-57 overtime victory.

Friday night at the Trojans’ gym, Lawrence North, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A again, made sure this year’s rematch wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic.

The Wildcats bolted to a 22-6 first-quarter lead and never let Center Grove, ranked seventh, draw closer than four points after that in a 78-63 Lawrence North victory.

Center Grove’s loss denied it a chance at an outright Metropolitan Conference title, as well.

The Trojans entered the game with a 5-0 league record, while Lawrence North came in with a 5-1 conference mark. Center Grove (14-3 overall) must win Wednesday when it hosts Carmel to clinch a share of the MIC crown. Lawrence North improved to 19-1 overall, concluded conference play at 6-1 and clinched a share of the MIC title.

Both coaches believed last year’s close encounter played a role in Friday’s outcome, saying it made Lawrence North aware it would need to play at its best to beat the Trojans.

“Last year’s game probably hurt us this year,” Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders said. “There was a chance they overlooked us a little bit last year, but I know they were prepared for us (Friday).

“They had scouts at at least five of our games (earlier this season), and they’re so well-coached. They work at it.”

The Wildcats’ inside tandem of Destiny Washington and Lamina Cooper combined for 40 points and 20 rebounds, while senior point guard Ana Owens added 21 points and controlled Lawrence North’s offense.

After a shaky second quarter in which Center Grove’s zone defense produced six turnovers, the Wildcats didn’t commit a turnover the entire second half. Center Grove, meanwhile, lost the ball 16 times, 11 in the second half.

“Last year’s game was so competitive, and they really outplayed us for the majority of that game,” Lawrence North coach Chris Giffin said. “A conference championship was on the line (Friday), and one of our goals was to repeat. This is a group that’s internally motivated.

“They were focused and hungry.”

After falling into the 22-6 deficit, Center Grove clawed back with the zone defense and opportunistic offense. The Trojans converted four 3-point plays in a three-minute span, and outscored Lawrence North 17-5 to trim the deficit to 27-23 with 4:02 remaining in the first half.

Center Grove trailed 35-30 with time winding down in the first half, but the Wildcats’ Lauren Dickerson hit a driving layup at the buzzer, and Lawrence North scored the first six points of the second half to extend its lead to 43-30.

Center Grove never drew closer than nine points after that.

“You can prepare, you can watch film and you can bring in a scout team, but you can’t simulate what they do in practice,” Sanders said. “They’re quick, athletic and skilled. Their ballhandling is great, and they make shots.”

Senior Madi Kolthoff led Center Grove with 18 points, all coming after the first quarter. Sophomore point guard Lauren Rau added 16 and successfully broke down the Wildcats’ guards repeatedly in the process. Regan Wentland added 12 points and seven rebounds, while Ali Line grabbed a team-best eight rebounds.

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