First quarter ferocity: Lady Panthers ride overwhelming start to second straight regional
Cripe scores 20, Brooke sisters also in double figures: next up: Northfield, 1 p.m. Saturday at the Logansport semistate
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
FULTON –- The Pioneer girls basketball team held a walk-through in their home gym at school after their Class 1A regional semifinal win over Kouts Saturday but before their regional final game against Triton.
The walk-through occurred at about 6 p.m. It was not a full practice but just enough to get the blood flowing, according to senior forward Olivia Brooke.
They didn’t want to be “cold-shouldered” coming into the final.
Pioneer had played Triton back on Dec. 19 in their Hoosier North game. Though Pioneer won 46-34, they had fallen behind 14-9 after the first quarter, and the game was tied at halftime.
There was no slow start in the rematch.
Riding a 2-3 zone trap that stretched out to halfcourt, Pioneer scored the first 14 points, stretched the lead out to 29-4 and cruised to a 65-37 win that earned them their second straight regional title.
Pioneer led by as many as 36 points in the fourth quarter.
The No. 7 Lady Panthers will next play No. 13 Northfield in the semistate at Logansport High School at 1 p.m. this Saturday. Northfield, the Three Rivers Conference champions, beat Clinton Central 72-34 and Blue River 60-44 in two regional games at Wes-Del Saturday.
Pioneer knocked off Kouts 50-25 in their regional semifinal earlier Saturday.
The Lady Panthers (23-4) are 20-1 since starting the season 3-3.
Hailey Cripe led Pioneer with 20 points against Triton. Ashlynn Brooke added 12 off the bench, and older sister Olivia Brooke had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Brooklyn Borges hit a pair of 3-pointers and added eight points, and Madison Blickenstaff had seven points and six boards.
“Amazing,” Olivia Brooke said. “This is what we wanted all year, and we’re reaching that goal. That’s what we’re hoping for. So this is just another step in the goal we want to reach.”
Said Ashlynn Brooke: “Awesome, it feels good to go back-to-back, and with this team, I think we can go all the way like we did last year and hopefully get that blue medallion this year.”
Sharing the spotlight was senior guard Mackenzie Walker, a defensive savant who teamed with Cripe along the top to disrupt the Triton offense.
Walker scored all seven of her points in the first quarter. All three of her field goals came off steals, one of which led to a 3-point play.
Walker and Cripe along the top of the 2-3 defense – the defense is jokingly called the “33” within the team because Walker and Cripe’s ballhawking makes it seem like Pioneer has six defenders – helped lead to yet another strong start.
“It wasn’t much of a practice, more of a walk-through,” Walker said. “We talked about what Triton was going to do and what we were going to do and everything like that. … We said we were going to be aggressive and just focus on our goal, and that’s what we did.”
Said Olivia Brooke of Walker’s play in the first quarter: “That really got us going. … We call it 33 because Mackenzie Walker and Cripe are like three players. They are so fast, so we call it 33. That’s our favorite defense right now. … Blick has all the paint, and me and Brooklyn Borges’ job is pretty much from the 3-point line down. … But our job is pretty much not let their hard work go to waste.”
During their five-game state tournament run so far, Pioneer has had the following first-quarter leads:
13-8 over Caston
17-1 over Frontier
31-11 over North White
16-2 over Kouts
16-2 over Triton
“She’s like a catcher, her softball position, because of how well she reads people’s eyes,” Ashlynn Brooke said of Walker.
Said Walker: “We just come out, and we don’t back down no matter what. Good starts are what make the games exciting for us. If we come out with a good start, that just dictates the rest of the game.”
Blickenstaff scored a team-high 22 points in the Kouts game.
“It’s definitely our defense and our ability to go fast basically. On defense, we’re always talking. That’s our big thing is talking. And rebounding. That’s our number one key is rebounding.”
Emma Hepler hit three 3-pointers and scored 12 points for Triton, who finished 12-12. Abbey Viers added seven, and Lexia Hostrawser had six.
Triton had beaten Fort Wayne Blackhawk 46-40 earlier Saturday in their semifinal.
A Viers 10-footer made it 16-4, and Triton held Pioneer scoreless for over three-and-a-half minutes covering the first and second quarters.
But Pioneer answered with another 13-0 run. Olivia Brooke scored the first six points of the run on a driving banker, a putback and an 18-footer. Cripe hit a 3-pointer from the right corner and then hit another right baseline jumper.
Then came the pass of the night – a no-look Olivia Brooke fastball to Blickenstaff underneath the basket for a layup to make it 29-4.
“I knew she was down there,” Olivia Brooke said. “I think I’ve been playing with Blick so much that it’s just a feeling. We talked about it after, and she goes, ‘I knew you saw me, and I knew it was coming.’ Like it’s one of those things that I was like, ‘I knew you were there.’ So it’s just one of those things that happens because of the chemistry we have on the court.”
The lead was 35-10 at halftime. Triton got back within 43-24 at one point in the third quarter, but Pioneer switched to a man-to-man defense and then went on another 16-0 run that bled into the fourth quarter.
That run included four points from Cripe, an Ashlynn Brooke runner in the lane and an Olivia Brooke steal and pullup banker.
“It’s fun playing with this team,” Ashlynn Brooke said. “Nobody cares who scores. We share the ball. When you get someone else to score and you’re happy for them, it’s easy to play with those types of people.”
When Borges hit a 3-pointer to cap the run, it was 59-24.
“We love playing together,” Blickenstaff said. “We go to practice every day, and we're like, ‘We get another week. Let’s improve ourselves.’”
Pioneer 65, Triton 37
TRITON (37) (12-12)
Taren Yates 1 0-2 2, Kinsey Atkins 0 2-2 2, Emma Hepler 4 1-1 12, Abbey Viers 3 1-2 7, Lexia Hostrawser 3 0-0 6, Jocelynn Faulkner 0 0-1 0, Jaelyn Bules 1 2-3 4, Addmyson Viers 2 0-0 4, Morgan Feldman 0 0-0 0, Lena Doll 0 0-0 0
TEAM: 14 6-11 37
PIONEER (65) (23-4)
Mackenzie Walker 3 1-2 7, Hailey Cripe 7 4-4 20, Brooklyn Borges 3 0-0 8, Olivia Brooke 5 1-3 11, Madison Blickenstaff 2 3-4 7, Crystabelle Blickenstaff 0 0-2 0, Bryleigh Binney 0 0-0 0, Ashlynn Brooke 3 5-6 12, Maggie Steffel 0 0-0 0, Kylie Attinger 0 0-0 0, Adeline Cripe 0 0-0 0, Katelyn Duncan 0 0-0 0
TEAM: 23 14-21 65
Three-point field goals:
Triton 3 (Hepler 3),
Pioneer 5 (Cripe 2, Borges 2, A. Brooke)
Total fouls: Triton 15, Pioneer 11
Turnovers: Triton 21, Pioneer 8
Score by quarters
Triton 2 8 14 13 – 37
Pioneer 16 19 19 11 – 65
The Pioneer girls basketball team poses with the regional trophy after their 65-37 win over Triton in the Class 1A Caston regional final Saturday. Pioneer defeated Kouts 50-25 earlier Saturday in the semifinals. Pioneer (23-4) will play No. 13 Northfield at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Logansport in the semistate. (Val T Photo)
Photos Courtesy of Dee Brown