No.3 Stars get tough to conquer Castle 53-44 in regional semifinal

COLUMBUS – BNL’s Chloe Spreen looks for a way to attack Castle’s Natalie Niehaus. Spreen scored 23 points as the No.3 Stars rolled to the regional final with a 53-44 win.

By Justin Sokeland

COLUMBUS – Sensing danger, and the threat was real, Bedford North Lawrence switched to attack mode. The line was drawn. Get aggressive or go home.

The line that favored the Stars the most was 15 feet from the basket. That’s where clutch resides, where toughness is rewarded, where high-level games are decided. And No.3 BNL made the most of its chances, defying the established season percentages with a near-perfect performance en route to a regional championship clash.

BNL shot past gritty Castle 53-44 in the Saturday afternoon semifinal at Columbus North, earning the expected showdown and rematch with No.2 Franklin in the final. The Grizzly Cubs (26-1) blasted past East Central 78-65 in the first semifinal. Chloe Spreen scored 23 points while propelling BNL (24-2) to its sixth consecutive regional final.

The Stars broke the Knights (19-5) with a power-play second half, taking control with a hard-nosed surge to open the third quarter, then banking victory by hitting 9 of 10 free throws in the final frame. For a team that shot only 65 percent from the line during the first 25 games, the 13-for-14 overall performance was crucial.

“We were pretty stellar,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “You win doing that.”

BNL won by finally slowing down the Knights. Locked in a 26-26 deadlock at intermission, the Stars went on a critical 12-3 burst, ignited by Mallory Pride’s layup off a Madisyn Bailey pass, by Bailey’s baseline drive, by two Spreen 3-point plays. Castle never recovered, although the Knights certainly made it interesting with do-or-die effort in the closing minutes. Twice, Castle got within four, the last at 48-44 with 1:58 left. But Spreen and Karsyn Norman had the daggers, five throws to seal it.

“They stepped up and hit what they needed to hit,” Castle coach Bob Meier said. “That’s what good teams and good players do.”

Everybody was hitting everything at first. BNL, worried about a slow start and another woeful shooting day after the sectional final struggles, made its first four shots – and still trailed as Castle’s Jordan Coon cut back door for a layup, buried a trey, and set up Natalie Niehaus for a 15-footer in the lane. That was Castle’s biggest lead at 16-11.

BNL answered with Spreen’s 8-footer, Ella Turner’s rebound basket, and a Karsyn Norman bomb. Turner’s layup off a Norman drive and dish created the 26-26 deadlock at the half.

COLUMBUS – BNL’s Karsyn Norman drives into defensive traffic. Norman had 16 points.

“That’s the concept of momentum,” Meier said. “You get some confidence. It was fun basketball. That’s how we’re best offensively.”

That set the stage for BNL’s switch to a tougher angle of attack. Go to the hole. The Stars didn’t launch a trey in the second half. It was as if that line didn’t exist. The only line in their minds was the only one that mattered. And the defense, which has gotten BNL to this point, rose to the occasion.

“Our intensity didn’t match what it needed to be on the defensive end,” Allen said. “We talked about getting our intensity up and getting tougher. I thought they out-toughed us in the first half. We battled better in the second half.

“They’re hard to guard because they’re disciplined, they’re tough kids, they all can drive it. They back-doored us a lot. Getting separation on them and putting pressure on them to score was huge.”

“That was the key,” Meier said. “They came out attacking and really put the pressure on us defensively. We played hard and competed, but we missed some opportunities to negate some of their attack.”

COLUMBUS – BNL’s Madisyn Bailey finds room to get past Castle’s Aleyna Quinn. Bailey had 6 points.

Natalie Niehaus paced Castle with 17 points, including a lob pass for a basket and 3-point play that got the Knights to the 48-44 point. But Castle didn’t score again. And Spreen chased down key rebounds in the final two minutes,. “We had to get defensive stops. And rebounds,” she said.

Norman added 16 points for the Stars, who relied on their two main weapons to do the most work. At this level, with only eight teams still standing in Class 4A, that’s vital.

”Those two kids are capable,” Allen said. “What I was happy about was they wanted the ball in their hands. That’s what you want out of your top players. Chloe did a great job of being aggressive and attacking the basket.

“Castle is a tough team. They just play hard and do it the right way. They’re physical and come after you, and they weren’t going away. We just had to keep making plays. For the most part, you have to be happy to compete and win at this level.”

Coon added 11 points for Castle, which fell to BNL for the fourth straight time since the 2019 regional. “They played with their heart,” Meier said. “They just couldn’t get it done. We got beat by the better team.”

COLUMBUS – BNL’s Carlee Kern snaps a pass around Castle’s Ky Hay-Swope.

BNL will now tangle with Franklin, which conquered the Stars in last year’s finale at BNL. The Cubs feature two interior stars (Ashlyn Traylor and Kuryn Brunson) and are extremely deadly from the 3-point line. They hit seven treys against East Central.

“They’re definitely really talented,” Allen said. “They pose a lot of problems. We’ll match up the best we can, keep them in front of us. The big thing is not turning the ball over. If you do that, it‘s easy baskets. At this level, it’s death. We have to take care of the basketball.”

Franklin 78, East Central 65 – With Traylor and Brunson doing the damage, the Grizzly Cubs advanced to the final for the second straight year. Traylor erupted for 34 points and Brunson added 27 to power the Cubs past the Trojans.

Franklin took control with a 9-0 run in the first quarter, then capitalized on four straight East Central turnovers to start the second half and roared to a 41-20 lead. Josie Trabel, quiet in the first half, got the Trojans (22-5) back within striking distance, but the gap was too wide.

Trabel finished with 31 points, 25 in the second half, before fouling out.

COLUMBUS – Chloe Spreen muscles her way between defenders.


3s FGs FTs R F Pts

2 Chloe Spreen, f 0-2 7-12 9-10 4 4 23

24 Carlee Kern, f 0-1 0-2 0-0 3 1 0

22 Mallory Pride, f 0-0 1-3 2-2 5 2 4

32 Madisyn Bailey, g 0-0 3-5 0-0 5 3 6

21 Karsyn Norman, g 2-3 6-10 2-2 3 0 16

31 Ella Turner 0-0 2-3 0-0 4 2 4

50 Emma Crane 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

23 Hadley Teague 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Totals 2-6 19-36 13-14 27 12 53


3s FGs FTs R F Pts

32 Natalie Niehaus, f 0-3 7-16 3-6 5 1 17

24 Megan Kain, f 1-1 1-4 0-0 3 3 3

22 Ky Hay-Swope, g 0-1 1-4 3-6 1 1 5

2 Jordan Coon, g 1-6 5-10 0-0 1 3 11

30 Devyn Barton, g 0-0 0-6 0-0 6 2 0

42 Aleyna Quinn 1-4 2-6 0-0 1 0 5

12 Keira Moore 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 3 0

40 Kiersten Niehaus 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 0 3

11 Shelby Turpen 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

21 Campbell McBride 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

50 Lola Allen 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

10 Jordan Scott 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Totals 4-17 17-47 6-12 22 13 44

Bedford NL 15 11 14 13 – 53

Castle 16 10 7 11 – 44

Turnovers – BNL 11, Castle 8

Field goal percentage – BNL 19-36 (.528); Castle 17-47 (.361)

Free throw percentage – BNL 13-14 (.928); Castle 6-12 (.500)


Franklin (26-1) – Lauren Klem 6, Kuryn Brunson 27, Ashlyn Traylor 34, Adelyn Walker 7. Brooklyn York 2, Kyndell Jochim 2

East Central (22-5) – Josie Trabel 31, Hope Fox 13, Laney Baker 15, Ashley Nobbe 2, Julia Tiemann 4