By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – For the first time this season, an opponent slapped Bedford North Lawrence in the face. Open palm, square on the cheek, leaving a red mark of pain and embarrassment while causing the eyes to burn with salt-water tears.
Trailing for the first time in four games, having forgotten what that felt like, the Stars responded with a champion’s grit. Once order was restored, BNL never trailed again. But neither did Bloomington South surrender. Nothing about this victory came easy.
BNL’s time in South’s rear-view mirror was brief, yet served to demand BNL’s complete attention. The Stars, freshly minted as the No.2 team in the latest Class 4A state poll, finally pulled away to a 52-40 triumph on Tuesday night. Chloe Spreen scored 22 points as BNL (4-0) topped the Panthers for the 13th straight time in the series.
The Panthers (2-2) were frontrunners for all of one possession, when Kata Barada beat the first-quarter buzzer with a basket for a 14-13 lead. That evaporated rapidly when the Stars started the next quarter with nine consecutive points, and BNL opened the second half with a 10-2 burst for a comfortable margin. Yet BNL never felt at ease, and never shifted into a smooth gear.
“It’s not one of our better games, but a lot of that has to go to South,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “We tell everyone we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, and we got a really good shot from them.”
The loud crack, hand to cheek bone, woke up BNL. Spreen swished a 15-footer, Trinidy Bailey buried a corner trey, Spreen popped a jumper from 12 feet, and Madisyn Bailey converted a transition basket. That set the wheels in motion for a 27-18 lead at halftime, and the third-quarter breakaway included three straight runout layups by freshman Miley Sherrill (twice) and Spreen for a 37-20 advantage.
“The defense responded, which was good to see,” Allen said.
In fact, BNL’s only real advantage was the 27 turnovers it forced. South could not overcome that flurry of mistakes, even while smashing the Stars on the glass with a devastating 41-18 rebounding margin. The Panthers did not accomplish that with bulk, just with sheer length and aggression.
“We got outrebounded in some crucial possessions when we were making a run, let them back in it,” Allen said. “That’s something we can focus on. If this was a close game, and a really good team, we’re in trouble. We can’t let those things happen.”
South never got too close, with BNL’s biggest lead coming at 52-32 midway through the final quarter. Then the Panthers closed with the last eight points, which cost BNL any positive style points. Except the W, of course.
“To not play well and not shoot well, walk away with a win, you have to be happy,” Allen said.
South also left BNL Fieldhouse with positive vibes. There are no “moral victories” noted on the win-loss record, but veteran South coach Larry Winters sent a handful of sophomores into the fire, and they survived.
“When you’re playing a team that’s the defending state champion, ranked No.2, you have nothing to lose,” Winters said. “You just have to come play. As a sophomore, it’s easier to do that. They don’t have enough understanding yet to be scared. They love playing the game of basketball.
“You play the No.2 team, and have those turnovers, and only get beat 12 at their place, you have to have your head up a little bit. With some tweaks here and there, ballhandling and understanding, we have a chance to be competitive at the end of the year. That’s what these games are for, to get to the end of the year. We know we won’t be good right now. But by the end of the year, playing against these types of teams, we’ll be better.”
Spreen, a leading Miss Basketball candidate, was not as sharp as the performances that got her the Player of the Week award earlier in the day. She had four quick baskets, authored another highlight move when she won a scrum for a loose ball and slashed to the basket for a beautiful reverse layup to end the third quarter. She also went coast-to-coast with a rebound for a bucket during the fourth-quarter surge to the 20-point lead.
Bailey finished with 11 points, Sherrill had 8, and Bella Jackson added 7 in her second time as a part of the starting lineup. The Stars didn’t pass the perfectionist eye test because of the rebounding disaster and a collective 2-for-18 night from long range.
“We missed shots, but that will happen some games,” Allen said. “Some of that was due to South, they played very well. We didn’t shoot well, and that can get in your head as a player. For the first quarter, it affected our defense. We got frustrated, we lost our discipline a little bit. And they kept capitalizing on it.
“It wasn’t very pretty. They’re teen-age girls, it gets in their heads sometimes and frustrates them. Sometimes kids get anxious to get going, to make a shot to get us going. Maybe pull the trigger early. It was a really good game for us to have some stuff to work on.”
Violet Hall paced the Panthers with 13 points (plus nine boards), Molli Lucas added 12 points, and Julia Lashley led the board bashing with 10 rebounds.
Now if Hall’s numbers don’t leap off the page, consider this added information. She was born with phocomelia, a defect where her right arm is missing below the elbow. Despite that disadvantage, she was a constant problem for the Stars to deal with.
“If you were just listening to the radio, you wouldn’t know she has just one arm,” Winters said. “You’d think that player was pretty good. And then when you get the opportunity to see her, you think ‘Wow, she really is pretty special.’ She does a lot of things you wouldn’t expect her to be able to do with the basketball.”
And she was a force against one of the state’s elite teams.
“I love to be an inspiration, love it when people come up to me and tell me ‘Good job, you’re an inspiration,’” Hall said. “That means a lot, that my hard work – showing it to other people is worth it.”
“It’s amazing what she’s done,” Allen said. “She’s a beacon of light for others to see her do that.”
BNL will return to action on Friday night, visiting North Central in Indianapolis.
BLOOMINGTON SOUTH PANTHERS (40)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
22 Violet Hall, f 1-5 5-13 2-2 9 0 13
33 Abbie Lucas, f 0-0 0-6 0-2 7 3 0
11 Molli Lucas, g 1-2 5-8 1-1 3 2 12
23 Audrey Craft, g 0-1 3-4 0-0 1 2 6
32 Julia Lashley, g 1-2 2-6 2-4 10 2 7
1 Kate Barada 0-3 1-4 0-0 2 1 2
12 Alaina Maki 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
34 Rebekah Arnold 0-0 0-0 0-0 2 1 0
Totals 3-13 16-41 5-9 41 11 40
BEDFORD NL STARS (52)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
2 Chloe Spreen, f 0-4 10-23 2-2 6 3 22
20 Bella Jackson, f 1-2 1-3 4-4 2 0 7
22 Miley Sherrill, f 0-2 4-9 0-0 2 1 8
24 Madisyn Bailey, f 0-2 4-10 3-5 3 1 11
32 Trinidy Bailey, g 1-3 1-3 1-2 3 3 4
12 Tori Nikirk 0-3 0-4 0-0 2 1 0
23 Katie Godlevske 0-2 0-2 0-0 0 2 0
Totals 2-18 20-53 10-13 18 11 52
Bl. South 14 4 9 13 – 40
Bedford NL 13 14 14 11 – 52
Turnovers – South 27, BNL 5
Field goal percentage – South 16-41 (.390); BNL 20-53 (.377)
Free throw percentage – South 5-9 (.556); BNL 10-13 (.769)