By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – When veteran Columbus East coach Danny Brown announced his pending retirement at the conclusion of this season, that news annoyed Bedford North Lawrence counterpart Jeff Allen. Brown’s departure will mean the designation of oldest girls basketball coach in the Hoosier Hills Conference will fall to Allen, and that’s not the title Allen wants.
Brown’s Olympians have won the last two conference championships, at BNL’s expense. That’s the title Allen and the No.7 Stars covet, one they’ll seek to clinch when they visit East to past their respects to Brown during one of the final legs of his farewell tour on Tuesday night.
BNL (16-3 overall, 4-0 in the league) can lock down at least a piece of its 22nd HHC crown with a victory over struggling East (5-10, 0-3). The Olympians have conquered BNL two straight times, including last year’s 58-51 conquest when BNL was ranked No.1 in the Class 4A poll. The Stars have always made the league title the top regular-season priority, so the back-to-back denials have been devastating.
“They’ve gotten the better of us,” Allen said. “We hope we can go over there and return the favor, take care of business and lock down a piece of the conference championship.”
Brown, a 2015 inductee into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, has done it all during his 20 years with the program: five sectional titles, a great run to the state final in 2007. He currently ranks 18th among active coaches with 356 career wins. Age (and he’s 68) is only a number, after all.
“I’m a little bit angry with him,” Allen said with a laugh, referring to the ‘old’ title he will inherit. “In all honesty, I’ve really enjoyed and valued the competition, the friendship on and off the court. I admire him for what he’s done with his program. I will miss having him in the conference. He has left his mark on that program.”
His final East team has endured some hardships. East has lost its last six games, and 6-0 star senior Saige Stahl (a Junior All-Star last season and an Indiana State recruit) missed the last game with an ankle injury. She is expected back to face the Stars, which means BNL must deal with her 24.7 points and 9.9 rebounds.
“Her size and athleticism is a problem for us,” Allen said. “And (Leah) Bachmann (another 6-0 senior), too. They’re both big, really good athletes. We’ll have to do a great job defensively as a unit, try to make things difficult for them as much as possible, putting pressure on ballhandlers and making sure we get help on the weak side when they try to go inside.”
Bachmann adds 8.3 points and 5.9 boards. East’s issue has been 20 turnovers per game, a stat BNL will try to exploit. The smaller Stars have made life miserable for opposing guards. Last year, East could count on Koryn Greiwe, the school’s career scoring leader, to handle that. She had 19 points and Stahl added 16 during that win at BNL.
East’s other problem will be containing BNL’s explosive attack. The Stars are seventh in the state in scoring (63.4), and East has allowed 61.1 per game. Chloe Spreen leads BNL at 20.5, future Indiana All-Star guard Karsyn Norman adds 15.8, and the Stars have gotten overlooked contributions from Mallory Pride (10.4 points, 7.5 boards) and Madisyn Bailey (7.8 points after totaling 16 against Castle). That balance has been obvious during the last two outings, when BNL found out it could function without Spreen (ankle injury) and Norman (foul trouble).
“It makes us really difficult to guard,” Allen said. “Everyone focuses on Karsyn and Chloe. When you’ve got teammates that are capable of taking up the slack and putting up numbers, it makes it difficult for teams to focus on those two kids. With our lack of size, that’s an advantage. All of our kids are pretty skilled.”
In addition to the starting unit (including senior Emma Brown), BNL has also gotten key moments from its bench. That was again highlighted in the victories over Jennings County (during a key second-quarter stretch as the Stars rallied) and Castle. Emma Crane and Katie Baumgart have scored in big moments, while freshman guard Trinidy Bailey and sophomore Tori Nikirk have made an impact.
“Trinidy is solid,” Allen said after he inserted her into the lineup during Spreen’s one-game absence. “She’s got a high basketball IQ, she understands her role when she’s out there. I have confidence in her, when I put her out there, she will do well. She’s been in some tough moments as a freshman. When the situation is right, and I need them, I can put either one in there. Tori is a really good defender, plays hard. Those kids want to play more minutes, but it’s great to have those kids on the bench. They’re so valuable.”
BNL at COLUMBUS EAST
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: BNL 16-3 (4-0 in HHC), ranked No.7 in Class 4A; Columbus East 5-10 (0-3 in HHC)
Sagarin ratings: BNL 104.03; Columbus East 76.00
Last meeting: Last year at BNL, the Olympians conquered the Stars 58-51 en route to their second straight HHC title. Koryn Greiwe had 19 points for East, while Karsyn Norman had 17 for BNL.
Game notes: East coach Danny Brown has announced his retirement following the conclusion of this season. Brown was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Chloe Spreen 5-9 Jr.
F – Mallory Pride 5-8 Sr.
G – Madisyn Bailey 5-8 Jr.
G – Karsyn Norman 5-6 Sr.
G – Emma Brown 5-5 Sr.
Columbus East Olympians
F – Saige Stahl 6-1 Sr.
F – Leah Bachmann 6-0 Sr.
G – Jenna Guse 5-9 Jr.
G – Allison Craig 5-8 Sr.
G – Maeleigh Roberts 5-5 Sr.