Stars, the defending champs, and powerful Panthers set for epic showdown in HHC title chase

BNL’s Chloe Spreen and the Stars will battle Jennings County in a showdown for the HHC lead on Wednesday night. BNL has won 25 straight games in the series.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – History has recorded epic battles that changed the world. Another intense conflict looms, as two powerful forces are set for a titanic collision, one that could alter the world of Hoosier Hills Conference hierarchy. Call this one JC-Day.

Bedford North Lawrence, the defending league and Class 4A state champion. Jennings County, favored to end BNL’s series and conference domination. Both ranked in the Top 10, both featuring Miss Basketball candidates and future All-Stars.

The sixth-ranked Stars (14-2) will make the perilous journey to No.7 Jennings (14-2) for a huge showdown on Wednesday night. They currently share the HHC lead with 3-0 records, so the first priority and consequence of this clash will be earning frontrunner status to win the coveted league title. But there’s certainly more at stake.

This winner will also assume the unofficial title as favorite for the upcoming sectional at Floyd Central. The Panthers are also tired of BNL’s 25-game winning streak in the series, which includes five straight season-ending losses in the postseason while the Stars have won a remarkable 12 consecutive sectional titles. This is, by far, their best chance to finally inflict some damage against their nemesis.

“We know it’s a big game,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “It will be a great atmosphere, but that’s why you play this game, to be in games like this. Games like this are what makes it fun. You want to play someone really good, in a great atmosphere, and do your best.

Jennings County star Juliann Woodard is destined for Michigan State.

“For the conference championship, it’s important. Outside of that, I don’t think it means more than that to us at this point. It means a lot to them, from the standpoint it’s the first time in a long time they are favored over us. So that’s motivation for them.”

Jennings has been labeled the favorite because of its higher Sagarin rating, because of the homecourt advantage, because the law of inevitability indicates BNL dominance will eventually end. However, everything else is equal – records, top-tier talent and clinched-fist determination.

Any conversation about the Panthers must start with sensational senior Juliann Woodard, the Michigan State recruit who holds multiple school records. She is averaging 14.9 points (down considerably from her 22.8 mark of last season) and 9.7 boards, but her 4.2 assists and two other teammates in double figures have made Jennings a more formidable conquest.

“She’s a great athlete,” Allen said. “She has a high motor, and you combine that with her skill, it makes her a great basketball player. This year she has looked to pass the ball more. That makes them dangerous. They have really nice pieces around her, it’s hard to double-team her because she’s looking to get the ball to open teammates. It can really punish you if you run people at her.”

Sophomore sniper Mollie Ernstes (15.7) and senior Alivia Elmore (12.9) give the Panthers multiple weapons. BNL has been typically tough on defense, allowing only 38.3 points per game, but this will rank among the greatest tests.

BNL coach Jeff Allen and the Stars are seeking to defend the HHC championship.

“Elmore and Ernstes are capable scorers, so they have a dangerous three-point attack,” Allen said. “That’s hard for anyone to handle. They’re having a great year, they have a really good basketball team, one of the best in the state.

“We’ll stick with our principles and try to make it difficult. We guard really well, and we have to do that. We have to make shots. We’re a bunch of guards, we don’t have the size they have, which is a problem. If we guard the way we normally do, and rebound, not let them kill us on the offensive glass, and make some shots, I like our chances.”

BNL will counter with its own superstar in senior Chloe Spreen, who is averaging 19.9 points and 7.3 boards. The Stars will need her at her best, in addition to contributions from senior Madisyn Bailey (9.7 points. 5.2 assists) and freshman Miley Sherrill (10.1 points, 5.2 boards), to handle the Panthers.

“I think our schedule has prepared us to go over there and play them,” Allen said. “We have to use what we have – speed and the ability to score from the perimeter. We have to use that to our advantage.”

Last year, BNL extended its series streak with two identical wins. The Stars won the regular-season meeting 52-39 as Karsyn Norman scored 23 points (while Spreen missed the game with an injury). Woodard had 12 points and 14 boards. In the rematch, also at BNL, the Stars opened the sectional with a 51-38 victory. Norman was again the catalyst with 16 points, while Woodard had 16 for Jennings.

Jennings did suffer its second loss during its last outing, falling to No.3 Columbia City 56-47 in the final game of the Hall of Fame Classic in New Castle. However, its first win in that event was a message-sending 60-22 win over Lake Central (which handed BNL its second loss the previous week in the Pete Pritchett Classic).

BNL’s Madisyn Bailey is contributing 9.7 points and 5.2 assists.


When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Records: BNL 14-2 (3-0 in HHC), ranked No.6 in Class 4A; Jennings County 14-2 (3-0 in HHC), ranked No.7 in Class 4A

Sagarin ratings: BNL 93.88; Jennings County 100.35

Last meeting: The Stars swept two games from the Panthers last season, winning the regular-season clash 52-39 (with Karsyn Norman scoring 23 points) and the sectional opener 51-38 (with Norman totaling 16).

Previous game story: BNL answers the challenge

Game notes: BNL has won 25 straight games in the series. Jennings is seeking its first Hoosier Hills Conference title since 2002. The Panthers are 16th in the state in scoring (61.4) and ninth in winning margin (25.1).

BNL statistics

Jennings County statistics

Starting lineups

Bedford NL Stars

F – Chloe Spreen 5-10 Sr.

F – Miley Sherrill 5-9 Fr.

G – Madisyn Bailey 5-9 Sr.

G – Trinidy Bailey 5-7 So.

G – Tori Nikirk 5-6 Jr.

Jennings County Panthers

F – Juliann Woodard 6-0 Sr.

F – Etta Young 5-10 Fr.

G – Mollie Ernstes 5-10 So.

G – Alivia Elmore 5-8 Sr.

G – Madelyn McIntosh 5-7 Jr.