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  • Val T.

Preview: Loogootee survived slow start to make it back to state


Sports Editor, RTC

Class 1A state championship: Pioneer (24-4) vs. Loogootee (20-4), 11 a.m. Saturday

They might have been more well known for their success in volleyball and softball in girls basketball until a few years ago.

Does that describe Pioneer? Perhaps, but it could also describe Loogootee.

They were lingering with around a .500 record before going on a winning streak soon after Thanksgiving and making it back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Does that describe Pioneer? Perhaps, but it could also describe Loogootee.

During their state tournament run, they avenged a loss to a team they lost to during the regular season.

Does that describe Pioneer? Yes, it does. Pioneer lost to North White during the regular season but came back to beat them in the sectional final.

But it could also describe Loogootee, who lost to Tecumseh during the regular season but came back to beat them by 17 points in the regional final.

They have a pair of sisters on the team, one of whom is a deadeye shooter from 3-point range and the other a 5-10 forward.

Does that describe Ashlynn and Olivia Brooke from Pioneer? Yes, it might, but it also might describe Makenzie and Kylie VanHoy from Loogootee.

If it’s possible for schools that are 178 miles apart to be rivals, this might be it between Pioneer and Loogootee.

The rivalry gets renewed at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the Class 1A state title game.

The Lady Panthers and Lady Lions met in last year’s state title game with Loogootee winning 45-43 to win their first state championship.

“They’re a handful,” Loogootee coach Brian Smith said. “I saw they scored 31 points in a quarter in the game I was watching, and we only give up 33 a game. So it’s going to start on the defensive side. We’re going to have to get back and defend.”

Pioneer and Loogootee also met in the Class 1A volleyball state finals on Nov. 7, and Pioneer won in four sets to win their first state title in school history.

Pioneer’s entire starting five – Mackenzie Walker, Hailey Cripe, Brooklyn Borges, Olivia Brooke and Madison Blickenstaff – were all on the floor at Ball State on Nov. 7.

So were Makenzie VanHoy, Kylie VanHoy and Jaelyn Walker of Loogootee. Jaelyn Walker, a 5-9 senior forward who scored three points off the bench in last year’s title game, figures to play a key bench role for Loogootee.

Both teams have a dynamic, scoring point guard. While Pioneer’s Hailey Cripe scored 22 in the semistate win over Northfield, Loogootee’s Kalea Fleming scored 16 in their 43-33 semistate win over Greenwood Christian last week.

Fleming, who moved to Loogootee from Tulsa, Oklahoma, between her eighth grade and freshman years, is also an 80 percent free throw shooter.

“She’s consistent,” Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said of Fleming. “She does a nice job of handling the ball and running that offense. She has an even head and just a presence about her. She doesn’t get rattled. It seems like when they need a bucket, she’s able to get a bucket for them. I would say a pure point guard in that sense and just a heck of a defensive player.”

Smith called Cripe a “great player.”

“She looks more complete this year, and when you can bring a player like Ashlynn Brooke off the bench … not many teams in the state can bring an Ashlynn Brooke off the bench and go on runs that she goes on by herself,” Smith said.

Brooke called 5-8 senior forward Brooklynn Jones a “pure scorer.” She scored 17 in last year’s state game against Pioneer.

“She can maneuver around the bucket a little better than (Emma) Hoover (from Northfield) and is able to get rebounds better than Hoover did,” Brooke said. “She’s a really nice player, and obviously, we couldn’t handle her last year.”

Makenzie VanHoy is a senior, and Kylie VanHoy is a junior. Makenzie is known for her shooting while Kylie, who is listed at 5-10, averages 12.7 points and four rebounds per game.

“She’s more of a post-up player and does a nice job of using her body inside but yet can step outside and hit the 15-20 footer,” Brooke said.

Kylie VanHoy could find herself matched up on Pioneer senior Olivia Brooke, who scored 19 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the semistate win over Northfield and earned state player of the week honors for District 1.

“I think the older Brooke girl is very underrated in my opinion,” Smith said. “And then Blickenstaff, she causes all kinds of problems with her size, maybe more so on the defensive side than the offensive side.”

But it’s also possible that Pioneer hasn’t faced a defensive team quite like Loogootee.

“They’re just consistent,” Brooke said. “They’re able to shut down scorers that typically can score, and they do a nice job of getting back in defensive transition as well as pressuring the ball and having great help-side defense. I credit that they’re quick in every spot. There’s no weak link in their defense. And I think that’s how they shut people down.”

Pioneer has won its six state tournament games by an average margin of 25 points per game.

“It was all we could handle last year,” Smith said. “Hopefully, we can be able to compete with them, but they look like they’re rolling. I mean, I tried to look at games on their schedule … who did they play close?

“And there wasn’t nobody.”

Pioneer’s Ashlynn Brooke dribbles around Northfield’s Kyra Kennedy during the Lady Panthers’ 70-54 win over Loogootee in a Class 1A semistate game at Northfield Feb. 20. Pioneer will play Loogootee at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in the state championship game. Loogootee edged Pioneer 45-43 in last year’s state title game. (photo by Dee Brown)

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