For Center Grove junior Madison Kolthoff, the North Central girls basketball team’s big run didn’t seem to last too long.
“I just blinked,” she said, “and then it was like a four-point game.”
North Central cut the Trojans’ 18-point late third-quarter lead to four with under two minutes to play.
But Center Grove didn’t worry. Just like it did the whole game, it hit free throws at the end.
The Trojans made all 20 of their free-throw attempts, setting a new school record (previous record 11-12 in 2010-11) en route to a 55-45 victory against visiting North Central on Thursday night.
More importantly, the win keeps Center Grove in the hunt for the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference title.
Heading in, defending Class 4A state champion North Central, Lawrence North and Center Grove were the last undefeated team in the conference.
The Trojans delivered, earning their second straight victory and snapping North Central’s five-game winning streak.
“We still have three games left (in the MIC),” Center Grove coach Shawn Sanders said. “But we control our own destiny.
We want to be up there, at least in the conversation. That was a big one.”
But Center Grove had to withstand the Panthers’ comeback.
Sanders said the Trojans did a lot of uncharacteristic things during North Central’s run. They opened the final quarter with three straight turnovers that North Central turned into eight points.
“I think (the Panthers) were thinking that we wanted to run some clock, which was true. But I thought we got almost over conservative, like we weren’t looking to score at all.”
With 1:29 left in the third quarter, Center Grove led 45-27.
But the Panthers didn’t quit, as senior Tia Ewing hit a trio of 3-pointers to lead an 18-4 run that pull them within 49-45 Center Grove with 1:48 remaining in the game.
They wouldn’t score again as Center Grove hit six free throws in the last 1:35 to seal the win.
“Coach just said to keep our composure, and that’s what we did,” Kolthoff said. “We had to be strong with the ball to get to the free-throw line, and we came up with big free throws down the stretch.”
Center Grove had balanced scoring, with three players in double figures. Sophomore Regan Wentland had a team-high 13 points, Kolthoff added 11, and junior Bobbie Clayton scored 10 off the bench. Wentland also added eight rebounds, and sophomore Ali Line scored nine points.
Despite 21 turnovers, Center Grove outrebounded the Panthers 38-20.
Senior Celeste Edwards led North Central with 16 points.
Center Grove was without senior guard Lauren Weidman, whom Sanders said has been out of school all week with the flu.
“She’s kind of our captain,” Sanders said. “She’s our leading scorer. And she’s kind of the spokesman of the team.”
Center Grove hosts Perry Meridian at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.