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  • Val T.

Brooke’s 22, Baker’s treys lead Pioneer past Rochester

Thomas scores 13 in prep finale for Lady Zs


Sports Editor, RTC

WALTON — Ashlynn Brooke scored 22 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the third quarter, and Kylie Attinger added 11 points and eight rebounds to help the Pioneer girls basketball team overcome an 11-point second-quarter deficit and defeat Rochester 49-37 at a Class 2A, Sectional 37 quarterfinal at Lewis Cass High School Tuesday.

Macee Baker added eight points for Pioneer, including two 3-pointers in the third quarter that highlighted an 18-2 run.

Pioneer won their ninth consecutive game and improved to 20-4. They also won their eighth consecutive sectional game as part of a streak that dates back to 2019.

However, this was their first postseason game win as a Class 2A team. Pioneer moved up from Class 1A to Class 2A based on the IHSAA Success Factor for this cycle.

Pioneer will play Wabash, who received a bye, in the semifinals. Tentative start time is 6 p.m. Saturday. The winner will play in the sectional final at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Lexy Thomas had 13 points and eight boards for Rochester, who finished at 16-8. But the Lady Zs were held without a field goal for the final 5:03 and saw their own six-game winning streak in sectional games end.

Rochester won back-to-back sectionals in 2020 and 2021, but this was the first time Pioneer had participated in this sectional grouping.

Kennedy Jackson took a post feed and scored in the left block with 5:03 left to cut what had been a nine-point Pioneer lead down to 37-35, but Pioneer responded with a 12-0 run.

Brooke hit two free throws and then hit a 15-footer in the lane. Hailey Cripe then drove and dished to Attinger for a layup to make it 43-35 with 1:40 left.

Pioneer’s last six points came on free throws. Brooke went 11 for 12 on the night, and Pioneer went 18 for 23 from the line as a team.

Meanwhile, Rochester shot two air balls from 3-point range and missed two free throws in the closing drive.

Pioneer came in allowing 45 points per game on the season but had cut that number down to 39 during their eight-game winning streak. They trimmed that number again Tuesday.

Thomas and Millie Scorsone, Rochester’s two post players, combined for 15 points in the first half but just three in the second half.

Pioneer switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense, emphasizing to help out the post defenders.

Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said Rochester’s post players were “too powerful” in the first half, so being able to help was essential.

“I think defensively, we really stepped it up when we went back man,” Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said. “And when we doubled the post, the help-side defense rotated over, and Rochester didn’t seem to be able to adjust that.”

The more troublesome defense in the first half might have been Rochester’s. The Lady Zs held Pioneer scoreless over the first four-and-a-half minutes with an unconventional inverted triangle-in-two.

In this defense, a guard would meet Ashlynn Brooke, Pioneer’s point guard and the state’s leading scorer at 25.5 ppg, as she crossed halfcourt. Thomas and another defender would be behind her at the elbows to provide help if Ashlynn Brooke beat the first defender. Another defender would be protecting the rim to form the inverted pyramid.

Meanwhile, the fifth defender, usually Kallie Watson or Sydney Haughs, would face-guard Hailey Cripe, Pioneer’s all-time leading scorer.

Cripe, the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association/Franciscan Health player of the week for District 1 girls after scoring 40 points against Clinton Central last week, was held to three points this time.

“We inverted the triangle,” Rochester coach Brian Jennings said. “We put two up at the elbows and left our post player to protect the rim. We’ve seen some teams play some triangle-in-two before. But when you’re guarding a point guard like Ashlynn with that, the person at the top of the triangle gets caught standing behind the person guarding the ball, and you never get help out of that person. Or you have to make a decision: Can you trap her on the right or trap her on the left? And we thought about doing that, it just opened up for her to go the other direction. So we just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to put two up front, and if they beat us down low, they beat us down low.’”

Rochester started the game on an 8-0 run and maintained a 12-6 lead after one quarter after a Watson 3-pointer.

Rochester went over three minutes without scoring, but Watson broke the drought when she banked in another 3. When Haughs fed Thomas for a layup, it was 17-8.

Ashlynn Brooke hit two free throws to make it 17-10, but Rochester countered with a four-point possession.

Thomas scored in the post and was fouled with 2:36 left in the half. She missed the free throw, but fellow senior Kami Burkett, playing in her third straight game despite suffering a torn left ACL on Jan. 15, flew in for an offensive rebound.

When Thomas muscled in another short banker from just off the left block, it was 21-10.

A nifty Ashlynn Brooke finger roll, two Attinger free throws and a Maggie Steffel free throw cut the deficit to 21-15 at halftime.

On the opening possession of the third quarter, Ashlynn Brooke drove from the left corner along the baseline and found Baker, who drilled a 3.

Four Ashlynn Brooke free throws – two with 6:41 left and two with 6:18 left – gave Pioneer their first lead at 22-21.

Rily Holloway made two from the line to put Rochester back ahead, but Ashlynn Brooke and Baker made their 3s to give Pioneer a five-point lead.

“I think probably the biggest thing was Macee Baker hitting those two outside shots,” coach Brooke said when asked what the turning point was.

Asked what adjustments Ashlynn needed to make against Rochester’s unique defense, coach Brooke stressed patience and attacking the baseline.

“Just being able to make the read,” coach Brooke said. “When you come off and you’ve got the girl guarding you and then you’ve got the girl coming off the pick and roll and then you’ve got the girl from the inverted triangle, so it’s tough. I think she got a little more patient. I think maybe (in the) first half, she was a little too impatient, wanting to attack, attack, attack. I think there were a couple times, she would attack, back it out and then attack again. I think that really helped us.

“And honestly, we were able to spread them out after those outside shots.”

Two Jackson free throws and a driving layup in the paint sandwiched around a Brooklyn Borges basket made it 30-27, but Pioneer on-ball pressure started to have an impact.

A steal and a layup from Cripe and another steal and bucket from Ashlynn Brooke in the first-half minute of the fourth quarter sparked a run to make it 36-27.

“We got a couple quick baskets in transition, which helped us as well,” coach Brooke said.

Holloway broke the run with a 3-pointer, and after an Attinger free throw, Thomas got a 3-point play to make it 37-33.

After Ashlynn Brooke was called for traveling, Jackson posted up and scored to get the margin even closer.

The loss ended an injury-filled year for Rochester. Emma Howdeshell and Maddie Heinzmann suffered season-ending knee injuries in consecutive games against Caston and Northwestern in November, and Thomas and Burkett, the team’s two seniors, are likely to need hip and knee surgeries, respectively, after the season.

“It just shows you what hard work can do,” Jennings said of his seniors. “Lexy Thomas has been pretty much the face of the Zebras for the last couple of years with her heart and desire on the floor and just how hard she works. I don’t think people really understand the extent of her hip injury. I think she even found out more in the last couple of weeks, but for her to even be playing right now is just a miracle in itself. And along with Kamrynn Burkett, tearing an ACL and back playing on the court within a week, it just shows you the heart that both of them have.

“They put in the work. They’re willing to work. And even through injury, they’re still working. It’s going to be hard to see them go.”

Pioneer 49, Rochester 37

PIONEER (49) (20-4)

Macee Baker 2 2-2 8, Ashlynn Brooke 5 11-12 22, Hailey Cripe 1 1-2 3, Makenna Strycker 0 0-0 0, Kylie Attinger 4 3-4 11, Mandee Weisenburger 0 0-0 0, Maggie Steffel 0 1-2 1, Brooklyn Borges 2 0-1 4

TEAM: 14 18-23 49

ROCHESTER (37) (16-8)

Kami Burkett 0 0-2 0, Rily Holloway 1 2-2 5, Kallie Watson 2 2-2 8, Lexy Thomas 6 1-2 13, Millie Scorsone 1 3-4 5, Sydney Haughs 0 0-0 0, Lilith Eaton 0 0-0 0, Kennedy Jackson 2 2-4 6

TEAM: 12 10-16 37

Three-point field goals:

Pioneer 3 (Baker 2, Brooke),

Rochester 3 (Watson 2, Holloway)

Total fouls: Pioneer 16, Rochester 20

Turnovers: Pioneer 17, Rochester 18

Score by quarters

Pioneer 6 9 19 15 – 49

Rochester 12 9 6 10 – 37

Watch full game here:

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