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  • Val T.

Caston girls basketball rooted in refuse-to-lose mentality

Class 1A regional: Bethany Christian at Caston, 7 p.m. today


Sports Editor, RTC

Caston girls basketball seniors (from left) Macee Hinderlider, Isabel Scales, Annie Harsh, Addison Zimpleman and Alexa Finke pose with the sectional trophy and game ball following their 37-36 win over Tri-County in the Class 1A, Sectional 52 final at South Newton on Feb. 3. Harsh said the seniors on the team are like “sisters.” (photo provided by Dee Brown)

FULTON — The Caston girls basketball team had just won their first sectional title since 1985, and at approximately 11:30 p.m. Saturday, less than an hour after their third round-trip bus ride from South Newton had ended and they were finally home, they had a pep rally back at the school gym to celebrate their 37-36 win over Tri-County in the sectional final.

And the Caston cheerleaders were going to perform a routine as the pep band played “Rock’n’Roll (Part 2),” and who was going to help them except Annie Harsh and Addison Zimpleman, each of whom held a sign saying “Go,” and Alexa Finke and Madi Douglass, who together held a sign saying “Comets,” and Macee Hinderlider and Olivia Thomas, who also held a sign saying “Comets?”

It was both an impromptu celebration and a celebration 39 years in the making as the Caston girls had not won a sectional in that long.

And the girls raising their signs to the chanting chorus of the song were the ones who had just made history. They hit every note.

Many of the same girls played on the Caston softball team that reached the state finals last June. Prior to last spring, Caston had never won a sectional in softball.

And they also are coming off perhaps the greatest three-year volleyball stretch in school history as well.

They are used to winning, even if the school is not.

“As the girls like to tell me, I’m old,” Caston coach Josh Douglass said to the giggling and giddy crowd in the Launching Pad during the pep rally. “But when I look up there, in 1985, I was 4 years old. So it’s been a long time coming. So congratulations, girls, you’ve done something that’s super hard to do. Nobody understands, unless you’ve played the sport, how hard it is to win, and you guys accomplished it tonight. I’m proud.”

Coach Douglass noted that they were behind after each of the first three quarters in the Class 1A, Sectional 52 final against Tri-County. They trailed by as many as 10 points and were still down by seven after three quarters before coming back and finally taking the lead with 11 seconds left on a Madi Douglass layup.

And they had lost to Tri-County 47-42 in their regular season meeting 23 days earlier.

“They just looked at each other and said we’re going to get it done, and that’s what they did,” coach Douglass said.

Said Zimpleman: “The huddles always showed no doubt.”

Coach Douglass said he did not worry despite the team going 1-3 in its final four regular season games. He noted the team had one of its best practices of the season on Jan. 26, one day after a 38-33 loss to Bremen in their regular season finale and four days before they socked West Central 62-37 in their sectional quarterfinal.

An even more decisive 58-17 win over South Newton – they led 25-2 after the first quarter – followed in the sectional semifinal.

By winning their sectional, the five seniors – Finke, Harsh, Hinderlider, Isabel Scales and Zimpleman – earned one more home game at 7 p.m. today when they host Bethany Christian.

Scales, a Bethel University signee, had to adapt her game this year with Madi Douglass coming up from the eighth grade. Douglass is a point guard, which meant that Scales had to play more in the post.

“I had to go underneath a little bit more,” Scales said. “I’m one of the stronger girls on the team, but I’ll do anything for the team, and I’m willing to take more of a beating than normal.”

Finke did not play basketball as a junior but came back out for the team this year. She said she played travel volleyball in Fort Wayne for the first time last winter and was juggling that with her gymnastics career.

In fact, she is still doing gymnastics and had a meet on Jan. 29, which was the night before the basketball sectional started.

“I definitely missed my team,” Finke said. “I knew I had to come back and be with my team. It was pretty hard last season not being with them, so it was a good change of pace to come back and finally be reunited with them, and then also just go out and get this win for them. … I’m really happy I decided to play basketball again this year. I couldn’t imagine spending the season any other way.”

Zimpleman spoke of the hatred of losing and the bond of accountability it brings between the teammates.

“Hate it,” Zimpleman said of losing. “Hate it. None of us are really ready to hang up our high school jerseys yet, and in order for that to not happen, we have to keep winning, and we just hate losing.”

Hinderlider said she had to work on her defense over the offseason. She said she still has “a long ways to go” defensively.

She was asked if she hates to lose more than she loves to win.

“Honestly, yeah,” Hinderlider said. “There’s something about the fight more than hating to lose.”

Pictures from the celebration at South Newton High School after the Caston Lady Comets win sectional 52. Photos Provided by Dee Brown

That creates an accountability within the players. When a teammate with whom you have played for years goes hard, you are obliged to go hard too.

And that includes in the weight room, where the players go four times a week under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Brandon Kinser.

“We all trust each other,” Hinderlider said. “We’re all family.”

Harsh spoke of “the determination to not lose at all” and the trust the seniors have in each other.

“I think it’s that,” Harsh said of hating to lose more than loving to win. “And also, the fact that we’re just all close, and we call each other sisters, and that bond just helps us play better together on the court or in the field.”

Coach Douglass was asked if the girls hate to lose more than they love to win.

“Probably so,” he said in an interview with RTC after the pep rally. “The pain of losing is hard for them. I’ll never forget the first time they lost a game in junior high. We got beat by Carroll in the Elementary Gym, and they were all crying because they had never felt it.”

He said that hatred of losing showed itself against Tri-County.

“People have asked me tonight, ‘Were you worried being down seven heading into the fourth?’” coach Douglass said. “I really wasn’t. I’ve been down 20 and came back and won. These girls are just going to fight.”

Regional preview: Bethany Christian vs. Caston, 7 p.m.

Along with Lapel and Bedford North Lawrence, Caston is one of three teams in the state that is playing a regional on its home court.

Bethany Christian also has happy, familiar memories with Caston’s floor, having beaten Tri-County 38-30 in the 2023 regional at Caston.

They also lost 58-38 to Argos in a 2016 regional semifinal at Caston.

The 2023 regional title was their first regional title in school history, and they followed it with wins over Washington Township and Tri the following week for their first semistate title.

The season ended with a 60-41 loss to Lanesville in the state championship game.

While Douglass earned his 200th career win last year, Bethany Christian coach Kyrsten Parson earned her 200th win a 50-15 win over Lakeland Christian on Dec. 15.

Mariah Stoltzfus and Zoe Willems key the Lady Bruin attack. Willems averages 21 points per game, and the 5-2 Stoltzfus averages 12. Ellie Morris, a 5-6 sophomore, averages 9 ppg.

Both teams are conference champions. Caston is 21-3 and went 7-0 in winning the Hoosier North. Bethany Christian is 18-6 and went 5-0 in winning the Hoosier Plains.

Bethany Christian has two wins against teams with winning records, beating Central Noble (14-11) during the regular season and Fort Wayne Blackhawk (17-8) in the sectional final.

Caston has seven wins over teams with winning records – Winamac (14-10), Rossville (14-11), Lewis Cass (21-3), North Judson (14-11), LaVille (12-11), West Central (13-9) and Tri-County (17-7).

Tickets are $10 and must be purchased through Eventlink. Those entering must show purchase verification on their phone at the gate.

Semistate matchups will be announced at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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