Three letters sum up the Heritage Christian high school girls basketball team’s game plan on the basketball court.
Defense. Rebounding. Offense.
“In that order,” said junior Sydney Hall.
Those three letters served the Eagles well Saturday against a pesky North Knox team that would not go away.
Heritage Christian finally put away the Warriors 48-38 and put themselves in another Class 2A girls basketball state finals by winning the Richmond Semistate at Tiernan Center.
“It’s exciting to have the girls get that experience,” said Eagles coach Rick Risinger, a Richmond High School graduate who will make a fifth trip to the state finals in his nine seasons at Heritage Christian.
Heritage Christian (26-1) will face No. 3 Fort Wayne Canterbury (20-4) for the title Saturday at Hulman Center in Terre Haute. Canterbury defeated Tipton 79-65 at Warsaw.
Risinger is 4-for-4 in 2A championship games, having led the Eagles to a four-year reign from 2006-2009.
Getting back was no easy task.
North Knox kept coming at the top-ranked Eagles. The Warriors shook off a 12-3 deficit in the first quarter and didn’t wilt when they trailed by 11 in the second half.
Instead, North Knox had upset in mind, pulling within 37-33 with 6:17 to play in the fourth quarter.
“I really thought we had them,” said North Knox coach Steve Meurer. “Each quarter, (our players) grew. Their confidence grew.”
Tyasha Harris pushed the lead back to six for the Eagles on a one-handed layup the sophomore threw at the basket as she stumbled to the court.
That started an 11-5 run the Eagles used to close out the victory. Harris and Darby Foresman both hit big free throws down the stretch, and the Heritage Christian defense limited North Knox to two field goals over the final 6 minutes.
“We certainly didn’t play our best, but it doesn’t matter. We are moving on to state,” said senior Natalie Orr. “It’s a really great feeling to be able to continue the tradition that was established before we got here.”
Harris led the Eagles with 14 points, while Allison Schofield scored 12 and Hall 11.
Lauren Charlton paced North Knox (19-6) with 14 points. Teammate Maria Gugliotta finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Heritage Christian advanced to semistate last season but fell 56-49 in overtime to Evansville Mater Dei.
“I’m excited for the team,” Risinger said. “This is kind of still a young team. … At times you get into that youth, and I think we should be past that, but I think maybe it kicked in just a little bit yet today. We’ve had a very successful season.
“I’m extremely proud of the girls, because the way we had to win, we did what we had to do to win the game.”
Schofield added: “We’re still not done yet. I feel like we’re going to prepare this week and come out strong next week even better.”