Peaking Stars stuff the acorns for a 72-27 win in sectional semifinal

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Jenna Louden applies defensive pressure on New Albany’s Maleea Roland. Louden came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points as the Stars hammered the Bulldogs 72-27 in the sectional semifinal on Friday night.

By Justin Sokeland

WBIW.com

NORTH VERNON – Bedford North Lawrence coach Jeff Allen quoted the blind squirrel theory, the ancient cliche about the rodent’s ability to find acorns even with a handicap. Luck has nothing to do with the state of his basketball team.

If luck were involved, the Stars would not be aligned like this, with another sectional championship ready for the harvest. BNL’s cheeks are already chipmunk full. But there’s room for one more.

Defense is not luck. Nor is it discovered by accident. The Stars shut down another sectional victim, with brutal, savage tenacity, with devastating, destructive results in the Class 4A semifinal on Friday night.

BNL tore apart New Albany 72-27, extending its sectional winning streak to 26 straight, while advancing to the championship game on Saturday. Chloe McKnight scored 21 points, one of four Stars to cash in double figures, as No.15 BNL (18-5) took the next step in the quest for a ninth consecutive crown.

The offense bubbled after a sputtering start, but the defense never relented. BNL forced 16 first-half turnovers, giving the shooters a chance to finally flicker to life. Once they did, once McKnight regained her deadly perimeter touch, once Madison Webb found room in the paint, the Bulldogs (7-15) were doomed.

BNL, for the fifth straight sectional contest, kept the foe under 35 points. Hard to lose when the opponent is silent.

“The kids are playing well defensively,” Allen said. “It all starts with the defense, I think. They’re big believers in that, the way we’ve played lately. You have to give credit to them. I challenged them on that, and they bought into it. They’ve excelled at stressing it.”

The Stars missed their first six shots before Irye Gomez dropped a wing trey at 2:59. That opened the veins of confidence as McKnight swished three straight and converted a backcourt steal into a three-point play. That surge gave the Stars a 27-7 lead midway into the second quarter, and the drama was finished.

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Irye Gomez cuts to the basket for a layup. Gomez score 11 points.

After blazing to a 34-17 halftime advantage, the Stars scored the first 11 points of the third, with beautiful basketball as McKnight drilled two more from outside, Gracie Crulo-Rood cut back door for a great pass from Webb for a 3-point play, and Webb scored in transition.

“We caught New Albany on an off night,” Allen said. “I think the world of Tammy (Geron, New Albany’s coach), but we caught them on an off night and it started snowballing on them.

“We’re playing good basketball. Every coach, they hope they can peak at the right time. Once in a while, you get lucky. A blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while. It looks like we’re peaking at the right time.”

Here’s a peak at what peaking looks like: Offensive balance, as Gomez and Webb scored 11 points each, and junior reserve guard Jenna Louden came off the bench in attack mode to total a career-high 12. Defensive ruin, as the Bulldogs shot 25 percent.

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Madison Webb battles with New Albany’s Naria Reed in the post. Webb totaled 11 points.

“If they continue to play with that kind of energy on the defensive end, it creates offense, its a fun way to play,” Allen said. “I think the kids are having fun.”

Louden sure did. She helped spark the defensive fuse, and the scoring was a bonus. As a reference point, she had only 11 points in the last four games.

“Her energy off the bench, it just energizes the whole team,” Allen said. “Her play has been exceptional. She makes things happen, and that’s what you want with the first kid off the bench. You want that spark plug when you’re in a grind.”

“I just look to push the pace and keep everyone excited,” Louden said. “It just works. It was open so I just took it. I just went for it.”

McKnight, BNL’s leading scorer, had been scuffling with her jumper the last four games, but shooters keep firing. She hit 6 treys, more of what she was going when she drained 7 in back-to-back games earlier this season.

“As soon as she knocked the first couple down, we said we were going to keep punching that button and see what we can get it of it,” Allen said. “Good for her. We’re going to need her going forward. There are nights like that with this team. The kids do a good job of understanding that and getting the hot hand the ball.”

New Albany did not have any such luxury. Maleea Roland had 8 points and Layne Burke added 7. Naria Reed, who punished the Stars for 16 during the regular-season meeting, was limited to a single field goal – an offensive rebound for the first bucket of the game.

“We just couldn’t score,” Geron said.

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Chloe McKnight works against New Albany’s Mya Jackson. McKnight scored 21 points, and the Stars forced 16 turnovers in the first half.

Jennings County 52, Jeffersonville 45: In the other semifinal, Lily Ernstes score 21 points an Kali Thompson totaled 18 as the Panthers (10-14) reached the final, avenging a 42-41 regular-season loss to the Red Devils.

Alexis Gibson had 17 points for Jeffersonville (14-11).

NEW ALBANY BULLDOGS (27)

3s FGs FTs R F Pts

34 Layne Burke, f 0-4 3-7 1-2 3 4 7

44 Naria Reed, c 0-0 1-1 0-0 3 5 2

3 Maleea Roland, g 1-3 2-8 3-7 1 3 8

22 Mya Jackson, g 0-0 2-9 0-0 4 3 4

10 Taylor Treat, g 0-1 0-2 0-0 3 5 0

12 Delani Ewing 2-3 2-5 0-0 3 1 6

20 Anasha Crowdus 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

23 Journey Howard 0-0 0-3 0-0 1 1 0

32 Alaina Walker 0-0 0-1 0-0 0 0 0

21 Shalandria White 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

14 Kaylee DeMuth 0-3 0-3 0-0 0 0 0

33 Joy Robinson 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

Totals 3-14 10-39 4-9 22 22 27

BEDFORD NL STARS (72)

3s FGs FTs R F Pts

22 Irye Gomez, f 1-1 3-7 4-4 5 1 11

32 Madison Webb, c 0-1 4-11 3-4 3 1 11

11 Chloe McKnight, g 6-9 7-13 1-1 4 2 21

24 Gracie Crulo-Rood, g 0-0 1-1 3-4 2 2 6

21 Karsyn Norman, g 0-2 1-4 2-2 2 2 4

23 Jenna Louden 0-0 2-2 8-10 3 1 12

40 Haley Deckard 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 1 0

12 Makena Moore 1-1 1-2 0-0 4 0 3

50 Peyton Sweet 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 1 0

20 Carlee Kern 0-0 0-0 2-4 0 1 2

2 Emma Brown 0-0 1-2 0-0 0 1 2

44 Grace Kinser 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Totals 8-14 20-42 24-29 30 13 72

New Albany 3 14 7 3 – 27

Bedford NL 13 21 18 20 – 72

Turnovers – New Albany 20, BNL 11

Field goal percentage – New Albany 10-39 (.256); BNL 20-42 (.476)

Free throw percentage – New Albany 4-9 (.444); BNL 24-29 (.828)

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