By Justin Sokeland
NEW ALBANY – On the rating scale, Bedford North Lawrence is chasing the perfect “10.” The Stars are one victory away from defending a coveted title and extending a dynasty.
No.3 BNL will battle Jennings County for the Class 4A Sectional 15 championship on Saturday night, seeking its 10th consecutive title. In the class basketball era, which started in 1998, that would be a remarkable achievement.
The crown will not be retained without a test of worthiness. While the Stars (20-2) have won 29 straight sectional games, the Panthers (16-6) have a score to settle. They have not forgotten last year’s 64-32 beating in the sectional final at Jennings. Revenge would be sweet.
BNL won the regular-season collision on Dec. 1 at BNL, scratching out a 52-44 triumph as Irye Gomez scored 16 points. The Stars pushed their winning streak in the series to 20 straight, another reason the Panthers would love to end BNL’s domination.
Jennings has the firepower to do that. Freshman center Juliann Woodard is a force in the paint, and senior guard Addyson Kent is an explosive perimeter shooter. The Stars have evidence of both. Woodard, an athletic 6-footer, scored 18 points in her first clash with the Stars. Kent, who erupted for 27 against BNL in last season’s regular-season meeting, drew special defensive attention and was limited to 3 points on 1-of-11 shooting. She’s far better than that.
“They’ve got a couple of really nice pieces,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “The big girl is a handful for us. She’s a very nice player. I really like her game. We’ll have to make sure we’re playing well on post defense. You have to find Kent and not leave her any space, but those other kids are making shots. They cause you some problems.”
Kent couldn’t make a move without a BNL shadow in the December meeting, but that left interior room for Woodard. And she was impressive while hitting 8 of 10 shots and grabbing 7 rebounds. Brooke Mowery added 10 points.
“She’s had an outstanding freshman season, the maturity she’s had,” JC coach Kristi Sigler said. “Her basketball IQ is just there. She’s a special player to coach.”
BNL didn’t shoot well that night. BNL’s top two scorers this season – Chloe McKnight and freshman Chloe Spreen – were a combined 4-of-20. But Gomez got loose, McKnight had 9 points and 8 rebounds, and BNL got 14 points from its bench.
Jennings was guilty of 17 turnovers, and that’s Sigler’s top priority for the rematch.
“When you play Bedford, you have to take care of the basketball,” she said. “That’s the No.1 focus. Take care of it.
“Defensively, we have to contain their shooters, stop the drive. Offensively, we have to work our inside-out game, not get in a hurry. Every possession is going to matter.”
BNL’s arsenal will include Spreen (14.7), McKnight (14.4), Gomez (11.9) and Karsyn Norman (9.1, although she has scored 37 points in two sectional games thus far).
“They’re 20-2 for a reason,” Sigler said.
Both teams were off their usual excellence during the Friday night semifinals. Jennings topped Floyd Central 44-32, while BNL needed a late charge to deck Jeffersonville 62-36. Perhaps both were a little guilty of peaking ahead.
“I think it’s going to be a great game,” Allen said. “They‘re playing pretty good basketball right now, and they play extremely hard.”
The winner will advance to the two-game regional at BNL on Feb. 13.
IHSAA SECTIONAL 15
Class 4A at New Albany
BNL vs. JENNINGS COUNTY
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Records: BNL 20-2, ranked No.3 in Class 4A; Jennings County 16-6
Sagarin ratings: BNL 99.88; Jennings County 82.42
Last meeting: On Dec. 1 at BNL, the Stars posted a 52-44 victory. Irye Gomez had 16 points for BNL, while Juliann Woodward totaled 18 points and 7 rebounds for the Panthers.
Game notes: BNL is gunning for its 10th straight sectional title. The Stars have won 29 consecutive sectional games. Jennings won its last sectional title in 2005. The Stars have won 20 straight games in the series.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Irye Gomez 5-9 Sr.
F – Chloe McKnight 5-9 Sr.
F – Chloe Spreen 5-9 Fr.
G – Karsyn Norman 5-6 So.
G – Jenna Louden 5-6 Sr.
Jennings County Panthers
F – Lily Ernstes 5-8 Jr.
F – Juliann Woodard 6-0 Fr.
G – Addyson Kent 5-7 Sr.
G – Brooke Mowery 5-4 Sr.
G – Kali Thompson 5-4 Jr.