Basketball

Insider: North Central girls cope as special season comes to crashing halt

North Central junior Taylor Ramey (11) and her teammates react to their loss of the IHSAA 4A Girls' Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Saturday at Decatur Central High School.

North Central junior Taylor Ramey (11) and her teammates react to their loss of the IHSAA 4A Girls’ Basketball Tournament Regional championship game, Saturday at Decatur Central High School.

When it was over, there was a rose and a hug waiting for each of them. For the first – and only – time in 28 games this season, the North Central girls basketball team emerged from the locker room late Saturday night following a loss.

The end came sudden, 61-59 in overtime, to a strong and talented Pike team in the Class 4A regional championship at Decatur Central. It took nearly 30 minutes before the Panthers players and coaches filed out of the locker room, each given a hug and a rose by North Central teacher Janet Eichenberger.

One North Central player wasn’t crying. She was smiling. Not an ear-to-ear grin, mind you, but a subtle smile. Minutes before, in that quiet locker room, senior Ajanae’ Thomas addressed her teammates.

“Everybody was crying,” she said. “I feel their hurt, I feel their pain. I understand we lost. But we are a great team. We made history. What other girls’ team at North Central has gone undefeated into the tournament and ended with one loss? We are a great team. We have to keep our heads up because we had a great season. We won county, we won the sectional. We have (championship) nets. I just love playing with this team. If I had a chance to start the season all over again, I would. They mean so much to me.”

Thomas, an Indiana State recruit and one of three seniors for North Central, said it so well that coach DeeAnn Ramey didn’t have to say much. It wasn’t North Central’s best game, though that had a lot to do with Pike’s physicality and the play of junior Angel Baker, whose steal and layup provided the game-winning points with 10 seconds left in overtime.

The Panthers were without junior sparkplug Ajah Stallings in the second half after she suffered a foot injury. And star sophomore Rikki Harris injured her shoulder early in the overtime period, though she quickly returned to the game. But North Central was 27-0 for a reason. They’d found a way all year. It looked like they might again when Taylor Ramey’s 3-pointer in the final minute of regulation bounced high off the back off the rim and through to tie the score, 59-all.

Pike simply made one more play, battling back from an 11-point deficit early in the second half.

“There’s so much that this team has to celebrate,” said DeeAnn Ramey, whose 2012 team won two overtime games in the tournament on its way to a state title. “There’s no reason this group needs to hang their heads. But it’s tough. It’s tough.”

With Harris, Ramey, Stallings and others returning, North Central figures to again be one of the top teams in the state next season.

“We’re definitely going to miss the leadership of our seniors,” Ramey said. “But we have a good crew coming back. We’ll be contenders again next year. I don’t think anyone will count us out.”

But that’s another conversation for another day. As Thomas stood outside the North Central bus on Saturday, a light rain starting to fall, she knew it would be for the final time with this team. She wasn’t crying, but that part made her sad.

“It hurts my heart,” she said. “I wanted to go all the way. But I know when I come back next year to watch them, they are going to dominate. They’ll be just as great.”

Memory of her mom – murdered by her dad – fuel’s Ajanae’ Thomas

FILE – After 28 seasons at Greenwood, boys basketball coach Bruce Hensley is retiring after this season.

FILE – After 28 seasons at Greenwood, boys basketball coach Bruce Hensley is retiring after this season.

Hensley to retire at Greenwood: Greenwood will honor boys basketball coach Bruce Hensley at its final home game on Feb. 21 against Indian Creek.

Hensley, in his 28th season at Greenwood, is retiring from coaching at the end of the season.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Hensley said. “I’m a grandfather for the first time and my youngest son (Devon Hensley) is a sophomore on the baseball team at UIndy. I wanted to be able to spend time doing some other things.”

Hensley, 61, is a 1973 Greenwood graduate. He led the Woodmen to a single-class sectional title in 1991 and a Class 4A sectional title in 2002, when Greenwood defeated Avon in a regional semifinal game before falling to state runner-up Pike in the regional final.

“I’d say without question what you remember most are the relationships you form with the players,” Hensley said. “It’s always great to see them when they come back. Each team brings its own identity, which makes it enjoyable.”

Greenwood is 10-10 this season with a chance at its first winning record since 2005-06. The Woodmen were 12-12 last year.

“I think we’re in a good position as a program,” Hensley said. “That’s another thing that influenced my decision. We have a good nucleus coming back.”

Hensley said much has changed since he started as coach at Greenwood in 1989.

“It’s a 12-month sport now,” he said. “It requires your time 12 months of the year. That’s probably the thing that’s changed the most.”

Keefer returns to sideline: Lawrence North coach Jack Keefer returned to the sideline on Saturday for the Wildcats’ 46-45 home win over Hamilton Heights.

Assistant coach Kyle Green coached Friday’s 72-56 loss at Ben Davis. The Wildcats were without four key players for both weekend games. Athletic director Mike Penrose said it was due to a “violation of team rules.” The players are expected back this week.

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Enjoy an inspiring sports evening

Join former Colts punter — and still funnyman — Pat McAfee on April 27 to celebrate the state’s best high school athletes. The Indiana Sports Awards show hosted by IndyStar will be at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the event begins at 8 p.m. Go to indianasportsawards.com for tickets or information about the sports awards.