Changing of the guard: Jennings County takes over the HHC throne room with 58-41 victory over Stars

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Chloe Spreen drives through a gap in the defense during Wednesday night’s battle with Jennings County. Spreen scored 26 points, but the No.7 Panthers conquered the No.6 Stars 58-41 to take control of the HHC race.

By Justin Sokeland

NORTH VERNON – The changing of the guard, ceremoniously ushering out the old and stationing the new for the protection of Buckingham Palace, marks the formal handover of duty and power. Smiling is forbidden. Rather somber and sober, those bastions of royal and regal duty.

Out with the old. Bedford North Lawrence’s position as the Hoosier Hills Conference ruler is now in jeopardy. In with the new. Jennings County made its claim for the throne, in fact unceremoniously chased the Stars out of the throne room during a showdown for supremacy. And the Panthers had a big reason to smile.

The No.7 Panthers dominated, dictated and devastated the defending league champions on Wednesday night, emphatically ending BNL’s 25-game winning streak in the series with a runaway 58-41 victory. Juliann Woodard, on her way to Indiana All-Star status, set the tone while her perimeter teammates did equal damage as the No.6 Stars fell from the sky with a thud.

Alivia Elmore had 17 points while Woodard totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, powering the Panthers (15-2) to the top spot in the league race. Jennings (4-0 in the HHC) still has two more conference foes to vanquish, but it now controls its destiny while chasing the program’s first title since 2002.

For the first time in two decades, and for the first time in the player-coach career of Jennings boss Kristi Sigler (a 1995 JC graduate), the Panthers punished their nemesis. Jennings broke away with a 17-2 run to end the first half and exploded to a 25-point lead in the third quarter. There’s no doubt who the new guard is now.

“It means everything, especially for Coach,” Woodard said. “We played as a team. It worked.”

BNL proved that point in reverse. Chloe Spreen was sensational in true Miss Basketball candidacy with 26 points, but she was the lone star amidst a dark sky. Nobody else scored until 31 seconds remained in the first half, and she accounted for all but one of BNL’s baskets (either by make or pass) until midway through the fourth quarter. By then, it was way too late.

Meanwhile, Jennings also got 15 points from Mollie Ernstes, and the Stars shot a dismal 29.7 percent. Balance will always overcome individual excellence.

NORTH VERNON – Jennings senior star Juliann Woodard claims a rebound. Woodard had 15 points and 13 boards as the Panthers ended BNL’s 25-game winning streak in the series.

“Chloe was really good, we just have to have it from other people,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “We have to make shots against them to win. I thought if we played well defensively and made shots, we’d have a chance. They shot the ball really well. They played well and we didn’t.”

With Spreen literally doing all the work, BNL battled within 16-14 midway through the second quarter. Then the Jennings jolt knocked the Stars down, and they couldn’t get up. In less than a minute, Elmore, Madelyn McIntosh and Ernstes buried three straight treys. Woodard muscled loose for two layups, Elmore drove for another easy bucket, and BNL trailed 33-16.

Spreen found Miley Sherrill for two point-blank buckets, and she dropped a 16-footer from the circle, but another Jennings burst (11-1 to finish the third quarter) ended any suspense. BNL salvaged a little dignity with the first nine points of the fourth – with Katie Godlevske bouncing home a trey to end the Spreen-Sherrill scoring monopoly with 4:47 left.

“When they made that run in the first half, we quit competing for a little bit,” Allen said. “I was upset about that. But they made shots and we didn’t. That’s a problem in basketball.

“Scoring is contagious. If you’re in a drought, sometimes it affects everybody. When they shoot it that well, it will be a problem. We have some things to work on and get better.”

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Miley Sherrill hits the hardwood in a battle for a loose ball. Sherrill had 6 points.

Jennings flows through Woodard, the Michigan State recruit who has sacrificed some individual numbers for team glory this season. Her ability to drive, force help, and find shooters makes the Panthers potent and formidable.

“If I can be a team player, that’s what I want to do,” Woodard said. “It’s not about me, it’s my teammates and how I can help. We’re on a whole different level than we were last year.“

Jennings also made its case to be the sectional favorite when the postseason begins. BNL has won 12 of those titles in a row. Now that the Panthers have lifted the great weight off their backs, finally beating the Stars, they showed just how big the gap currently is. There’s still a few weeks to shrink that.

“We’ve had a lot of dog fights over the years,” Sigler said. “I have the utmost respect for Bedford. It’s a great experience, but this is business. It’s the focus we have to have. It’s more about composure.

“We hit shots. It goes back to hitting big shots, making big plays. We had a lot of kids able to do that tonight.”

BNL (14-3 overall, 3-1 in the league) will look to bounce back when it travels to Castle on Saturday afternoon.

NORTH VERNON – Jennings coach Kristi Sigler guided the Panthers to their first win over BNL in her career as a player or coach.


3s FGs FTs R F Pts

2 Chloe Spreen, f 1-4 6-15 13-14 8 1 26

22 Miley Sherrill, f 0-2 3-5 0-0 5 2 6

24 Madisyn Bailey, g 0-3 0-10 3-6 2 4 3

32 Trinidy Bailey, g 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 1 0

12 Tori Nikirk, g 1-3 1-4 0-0 1 3 3

20 Bella Jackson 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

23 Katie Godlevske 1-1 1-1 0-0 0 3 3

11 Haleigh Canada 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 0

Totals 3-13 11-37 16-20 19 14 41


3s FGs FTs R F Pts

00 Juliann Woodard, f 0-1 7-14 1-1 13 3 15

2 Avynn Belding, f 0-0 2-2 0-0 4 0 4

31 Mollie Ernstes, g 3-5 4-8 4-4 2 2 15

20 Alivia Elmore, g 2-4 7-9 1-4 2 2 17

5 Madelyn McIntosh, g 1-5 2-7 0-0 1 2 5

24 Etta Young 0-0 0-1 0-0 1 3 0

13 Riley Byford 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 2 2

25 Alexis Carson 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

11 Kaydence Lowman 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

10 Aylah Belding 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Totals 6-15 22-40 8-11 28 14 58

Bedford NL 8 8 7 18 – 41

Jennings Co. 14 19 15 10 – 58

Turnovers – BNL 7, JC 9

Field goal percentage – BNL 11-37 (.297); JC 22-40 (.550)

Free throw percentage – BNL 16-20 (.800); JC 8-11 (.727)

NORTH VERNON – BNL’s Chloe Spreen attracts attention in the lane. Spreen added 8 rebounds to her point total.