By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Winning with artistic elegance counts no more, victory with a homely stain is not worth less. Bedford North Lawrence’s first triumph in defense of its coveted Hoosier Hills Conference championship definitely leaned toward the latter. Guess what? Like the Mastercard commercials, it’s still priceless, no matter what it costs.
The No.2 Stars paid for this one by withdrawing some sweat equity and a champion’s toughness from their account. Jeffersonville tested that, daring to challenge the league queens in their throne room. Nothing came easy, which made it sweeter in the end.
After another sluggish start, BNL frowned a little and fretted a lot, battling back for a clenched-fist 54-44 victory over the Red Devils on Saturday night in BNL Fieldhouse. Chloe Spreen scored 19 points and Tori Nikirk added a career-high 13 as the Stars (6-0) started league play with a win that probably would be hung on the wall of an outhouse rather than a penthouse. “Win pretty, win ugly,” tennis star Venus Williams once said. “Just win.” The Stars held serve.
Every night, a different hero. This was Nikirk’s turn. She swished two treys during a key run in the second quarter. Then Spreen finally broke loose with three buckets in the fourth as BNL doused the Devils’ fire. The Stars suffered a few singe marks.
“We’re going through some growing pains as a team,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “The good news is we’re still winning. The bad news is I don’t think we’re playing well right now.”
The Devils (3-3) could take some of that credit. They zipped in front 7-2 as BNL limped through the first five minutes (for the third straight game in the week), and took a 12-7 advantage with Elle Marble’s 3-pointer to begin the second quarter.
Cue Nikirk, an unlikely source of offense after she hit only one of her first 14 shots during the first four games and the first half of the fifth. Then a funny thing happened. She hit one. Now she can’t seem to miss. Her first bomb started a crucial 16-4 burst, and her second finished it. In between, Spreen fought through traffic for layup and scored off an inbound lob, and Madisyn Bailey gashed the lane for a bucket. That run gave BNL a lead it would not relinquish.
“We were off to a rocky start,” Nikirk said. “That happens. Going in and fighting for it has helped us.”
What was her spark? “Confidence, honestly,” Nikirk explained. “After I hit one last night (at North Central), my confidence boosted and it just going from there. It helped our team so much to get going. Everything was going smooth, and hitting those made it extra exciting.“
BNL surged to halftime with a 25-21 lead, then bolted away to a double-digit margin on Miley Sherrill’s fast-break layup (after Nikirk chased down a long pass and made a snazzy assist) and Bailey’s drive-and-bank bucket for a 34-24 lead. The Stars started the fourth quarter with a Spreen fade-away and a final Nikirk bomb from the right wing (banked in, but ugly still counts). BNL pulled away to its biggest lead at 48-35 on a Sherrill layup (via Spreen’s fifth assist).
Spreen, who was shadowed by Jeff’s LaKyra Johnson and swarmed by everyone else when she attacked, had to work for her points, and she collected 9 rebounds. Bailey finished with 11 points. Nikirk has gone 4 for 5 from deep in the last six halves.
“We put her in a position where that’s what she does well,” Allen said. “It’s nice to see her have some success. Chloe and Madisyn are the whole focus of the defense, so those other kids will get their opportunities.”
The loss of style points was attributed to the slow start, the mediocre shooting (17 of 43) and the edginess against the aggressive Devils, who didn’t back down from the defending state champions.
“We’ve got some kids that don’t have a lot of experience against that type of pressure,” Allen said. “Conference games are always tough, conference opponents always play you tough.
“We haven’t looked comfortable. We’ve looked stressed. Some of the decision making has not been customary to what we do. We have to go back to work and get better.
“Good thing is we’re winning, that’s the first thing. Tonight, against an athletic, aggressive team, we didn’t play well, and some of that credit goes to them, I thought their defense was good. The kids are still playing together, sharing the ball, and we’re making plays when we need to get separation. Kids are making plays at crunch time, and you have to have that. We’ll calm down and get back to a level of normalcy.
“It seems like it’s really tough and we’re not playing good basketball. But you have to be happy that you don’t think you’re playing well, but still winning.”
For the Devils, Keziah Renee totaled 15 points and Elle Marble added 10. Johnson, the Jeffersonville scoring leader during the first two weeks of the season, was limited to 6 points (as Bailey’s assignment), but she had 12 rebounds.
“LaKyra is the best defensive and offensive player on the floor every single night,” Jeff interim coach Taylor Sykes said. “She is the hardest working player. She guards the best player on the floor, and every single night she achieves that.
“These girls are hungry, they know they are underestimated. That fuels them. We’re coming.”
BNL will now get to regroup before facing 4A No.13 Lawrence North, in a rematch of last year’s semistate final, in the nightcap of the Sneakers for Santa Showcase at Brownsburg on Nov. 25.
JEFFERSONVILLE RED DEVILS (44)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
4 Elle Marble, f 2-6 4-8 0-0 0 4 10
5 LaKyra Johnson, f 0-1 2-8 2-3 12 4 6
3 Amiya Calloway, g 0-3 2-6 1-2 1 1 5
22 Keziah Renee, g 2-6 5-12 3-4 6 4 15
23 LaQaya Gold, g 0-2 1-6 0-0 3 5 2
33 Kiya Boatwright 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
11 Makenzie Mason 1-4 2-6 1-1 2 3 6
24 Skylar Thompson 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0
15 Hannah Magruder 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 5-22 16-45 7-10 30 21 44
BEDFORD NL STARS (54)
3s FGs FTs R F Pts
2 Chloe Spreen, f 0-2 6-13 7-10 9 3 19
22 Miley Sherrill, f 0-0 3-5 0-0 3 1 6
24 Madisyn Bailey, g 0-4 4-12 3-4 6 5 11
32 Trinidy Bailey, g 0-1 0-1 0-0 3 2 0
12 Tori Nikirk, g 3-4 3-4 4-4 2 2 13
23 Katie Godlevske 1-5 1-5 0-0 1 1 3
20 Bella Jackson 0-0 0-3 2-2 0 2 2
Totals 4-15 17-43 16-20 26 16 54
Jeffersonville 9 12 6 17 – 44
Bedford NL 7 18 9 20 – 54
Turnovers – Jeffersonville 16, BNL 11
Technical foul – Johnson
Field goal percentage – Jeffersonville 16-45 (.356); BNL 17-43 (.395)
Free throw percentage. – Jeffersonville 7-10 (.700); BNL 16-20 (.800)