Do the numbers compute? BNL out to prove the ratings wrong once again in regional clash with Center Grove

BNL senior Madisyn Bailey and the Stars (20-4) will battle No.2 Center Grove (25-1) in the one-game Class 4A regional at BNL Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Last week, according to the trusted and math-based Sagarin computer ratings, Jennings County was the best team in Indiana as the postseason started. That was proven to be incorrect, on the court where it matters most.

This week, with only 16 teams remaining in Class 4A as the state tournament enters its second tier, Center Grove is now the numbers-based frontrunner. Bedford North Lawrence will, once again, see if that adds up.

The Stars, ranked No.14 by the humans who vote in the poll, will battle No.2 Center Grove in the one-game regional at BNL on Saturday. That winner will advance to the two-game semistate, with the next-round pairings and site assignments to be announced by the IHSAA on Sunday.

The Sagarin ratings are normally an accurate predictor of the future. The ratings are formulated with complicated mathematical algorithms, taking into account measurable factors like wins, losses, margin of victory, and strength of schedule. But it’s missing something, a key piece of data that cannot be calculated by digits. How is heart determined?

The Stars, the defending state champions, were irritated and aggravated by the perceived computer slight that made them 9-point underdogs in the sectional final. Motivated to an ultra-intense level of play, they earned revenge for a regular-season loss with a 43-39 victory over the Panthers, causing a glitch in the system and forcing a reset. As the robot stated constantly in the old-time television show Lost in Space, “That does not compute.”

“They don’t see our determination and how hard we work,” BNL junior guard Tori Nikirk explained. “If they think we’re not that, we’ll prove that we are. We had a lot of determination to beat them, since we lost in the regular season. Being able to play them again made us go. We played our hardest.”

BNL’s intensity, especially on the defensive end, was off the charts in the final. Driven by doubters who had the season obituary ready, the Stars were phenomenal, allowing only 10 points in the second half. Madisyn Bailey was sensational on both ends, scoring a career-high 24 points. That score reverberated across the state. The champions were still alive.

BNL senior Chloe Spreen, a Miss Basketball frontrunner, will lead the Stars in a chase for a regional title.

“Coming into the tournament, we were just really wanting to win,” Bailey said. “We’re playing a lot better right now and locking in on defense. It took a lot. We all really wanted to win.“

“We haven’t been ranked like I think we should be,” freshman Miley Sherrill said. “We’re a lot better than people think. Everyone thinks we have more to prove. We’re Lady Stars, at the end of the day, and we do what we do.“

While outsiders were surprised, BNL coach Jeff Allen was not. He could see what sheer numbers did not reveal. The Stars were improving with each week.

“First, it’s how we’ve grown over the season mentally,” he said. “That’s a big part. If you watched us play a month ago, compared to last week, it was just the poise and execution, our understanding of the game situation has grown exponentially.

“The three things that are critical this time of year, and what we did well in the sectional – we rebounded, we played with great poise on offense, and we made free throws. If you do those things, that puts you – in a high-level championship game – in a position to be successful.”

So what does the Sagarin model say about the regional clash with the powerful Trojans? Center Grove (25-1 with 18 straight wins) is a juggernaut. Even in BNL Fieldhouse, the Trojans are 3-point favorites, with a 56-percent chance of winning. Here we go again.

“I don’t think any of that matters to any of us,” BNL senior Chloe Spreen said. “We beat Jennings, so there’s no reason we can’t go out and beat Center Grove. That rating is something none of us care about.

BNL freshman Miley Sherrill is getting her first experience in the postseason.

“We all really wanted the sectional, but we want this just as bad. We’re not coming out here to do it all for nothing. That’s a big key for us. We want to come out with the same intensity we had in the sectional, be ready to play. We’re not taking this as just another game, just because we won the sectional. We want to go as far as we can.”

BNL’s challenge will be summoning that burning pride, that inner fire that was roaring in the sectional.

“Young kids bounce back a lot quicker than we give them credit for,” Allen said. “The energy of accomplishing that goal, and a lot of people doubted us, is carrying into this week. The kids are really focused and can’t wait to play.”

“We played to our ability, as far as playing hard, but there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” Spreen said. “We did play our butts off, but we’ve had a full week to recover and now we’re focused on Center Grove.”

Center Grove is favored for a reason. The winning streak includes impressive victories over Jennings, Lawrence North and Mooresville. The roster includes three returning starters from last season, when the Trojans fell to BNL in the semistate opener at Southport. So the revenge factor falls with the Trojans, who have dangerous scorers across the board. Senior wing Audrey Annee leads the way at 14.1, along with 6-3 senior Rachel Wirts (12.9, 7.0 rebounds), new point guard Lilly Bischoff (10.9 points, 6.0 assists) and junior Ava Grant (11.7). Annee and Grant have combined to hit a whopping 151 treys this season.

“We’ll have to close out hard,” Spreen said. “There’s not a player we can help off as much as we have in the past. We match up very well with them. Jennings County was great game to prepare for this. Jennings has great players, and these girls are very similar.”

BNL won last year’s semistate collision 50-43. The Stars have never lost to Center Grove in four previous postseason meetings. But history and human character are not included in the computer analysis.

“We know our abilities,” Trinidy Bailey said. “I guess we’ll just have to prove it.”

Franklin (23-3) will face Evansville North (16-10) in the second regional game at BNL Fieldhouse.

BNL’s Tori Nikirk and the Stars are determined to repeat as regional champions.