BY GREG FLINT
COVINGTON, Ind. —
The North Vermillion girls clinched the Wabash River Conference championship by defeating the Covington Trojans 54-42, but they had to battle to do so.
The Trojans stayed close until about three minutes were left in the contest before the Falcons put the game away from the free throw line.
North Vermillion won the opening tip, raced down the floor and gave the ball to Kylee Karr who scored with just five seconds gone in the game.
Not to be outdone, Covington ran right back to their end and Aliah Larsen tied the game just seconds later.
The teams traded baskets and free throws with Covington taking their first lead of the game on a Miranda Phillips basket with 2:32 left that made the score 7-5.
Taylor Turchi immediately answered with a trey to give the Falcons the lead, but Olivia Kagels countered with a basket to give Covington their last lead of the game at 9-8.
The game was tied at 11-all at the end of the first quarter, but North Vermillion made a run to start the second.
Darby Martin, who would go on to lead all scorers with 22 points, started getting the ball in the low post and she scored two quick lay-ups.
Larsen hit back with a lay-up off a pass from Phillips, but Shawnee Bowman and Martin again hit to push the Falcon lead higher.
After a basket by Avery Chezem for the Trojans, the North Vermillion duo scored another four points, countered this time by a short jumper from Regan Foster.
With three minutes left in the half, the Falcons led 21-17 and turned again to Martin for points. She obliged by converting a three-point play and another basket. Chezem responded with a three and the half ended with North Vermillion up 28-22.
“They really had no answer for Darby [Martin],” said Falcon head coach Terry Naylor. “When they went after her we got free throws.”
Covington mounted a comeback in the third quarter, slowly pecking away at the North Vermillion lead. They made no big runs, but concentrated on playing good defense and working for open looks on their end.
That style paid off as they cut their deficit to only four, 39-35, by the end of the period.
When Larsen opened the fourth quarter scoring with a putback, the Trojans were closer, two points down, than they had been since the first period.
Turchi quickly cured that. She hit a trey then fed Martin who hit two free throws and then fed Kinsey West for another basket – with only a putback by Phillips for the Trojans that made the score 46-39.
Covington cut the margin to four with about four minutes to go then faded. They had to foul in the hope of North Vermillion missing free throws, but the Falcons were 12 of 16 for the night and pulled away at the end.
With the win, the Falcons end the season undefeated in the WRC and capture the title. Asked if he would relax and prepare his team for sectional, Naylor said no.
“I want to win the three remaining games and get 21 wins,” he said. “I don’t think anyone at North Vermillion has won that many so we’d like to do it.”
Covington head coach Jeff McCoy said he was excited about how his team played despite the outcome.
“We showed the traits of a young team playing against veterans at times,” he explained. “But our seniors stepped up and played them toe-to-toe and our youth played hard, too.”
McCoy had special words for the play of senior Miranda Phillips who, along with Chezem, led the team with 10 points.
“Miranda has been patient all season,” he said. “I told her you wait for your moment in the sun and then you shine. She did that tonight, not only scoring, but you could call her ‘Windex’ for the way she cleaned the glass. After seeing that, I wish I’d put her in the other night at Schlarman [where the Trojans were out rebounded in a 53-48 loss].
“Our seniors were 4-55 going into this season, and when I took the job, Olivia Kagels said they’d turn things around and they have.”