CAMBRIDGE CITY, Ind.
John Lewellen posed a question to his team.
What, asked the veteran Lincoln coach, was missing from the Golden Eagles’ banner for girls basketball?
The Golden Eagles delivered the answer — and delivered the program a 12th title in the Tri-Eastern Conference.
Lincoln earned its share by halting Union County 34-25 on Monday to finish 6-1 in the TEC. Tri High already claimed its portion of the crown last weekend, while Hagerstown can make it a three-way tie with victories this week over Northeastern and Union City.
But, Monday night was the Golden Eagles’ time to hoist the trophy.
“I’m so glad we got the job done,” said senior Kristen Meal. “Coach even asked us what was missing on that banner, and we were like, ‘Number 14.’ We just want to put it up there.”
Meal scored a game-high 14 points as Lincoln earned its first conference championship since 2008.
Union County didn’t make it easy. The much-improved Patriots scrapped the entire night, leading 12-9 after one quarter and trailing 20-14 at halftime.
The Golden Eagle defense got the job done in the second half. Lincoln held UC to just three points in the fourth quarter.
“It feels great,” Lewellen said. “I told the girls through the years the feeling that you get when you win something, accomplishments, a lot of teams in a lot of high schools don’t get this feeling. You just try to build up on it.
“Their year gets to go up on that banner now, and they’ll be basically forever remembered for the 14 season.”
Union County quickly cut the deficit to two when Leah Gabbard scored at 7:46 of the third quarter, but the Golden Eagles responded with a 9-0 run.
It was the second 9-0 run for Lincoln. The Golden Eagles also had a key stretch of nine straight points in the second quarter.
“We just couldn’t drain two or three in a row like we usually do,” Lewellen said. “I think it might have been a little tense because they knew it was for the conference. We tried to get them relaxed on their shooting.
“Our shooters just didn’t get comfortable tonight for some reason. Luckily there in the second half we hit a few to get a little momentum going.”
Maddie Fulton scored seven points for Union County, with Gabbard adding six and Emily Goecke scoring five.
Fulton also snagged a game-high 11 rebounds.
“Our Achilles heel all year has been our ability to score the basketball,” said UC coach Scott Gray. “I think we’re averaging 37, 38 a game, and that’s not enough most nights to win. When you play a good defensive team like Lincoln, you better bury shots.
“It was still too many turnovers tonight. We’ve been working hard to cut those down, and we’ve gotten better at it.”
Union County (5-14, 1-5) ends its regular season Friday with a road trip to TEC foe Northeastern.
Haley Hall scored six points for Lincoln, while Meal added a team-high five rebounds for Lincoln. Bryant and Kylei Klein each grabbed four, and Kerrigan Neff had four points and three rebounds.
Meal, Bryant, Hall and Tayler Pennington are seniors, and each member of the quartet has provided a steady presence in the Lincoln lineup.
“The seniors have never had a conference before. We’ve had the county tourney,” Meal said. “A few of my other teammates have had conference in softball, but never in basketball. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Lincoln (9-8, 6-1) plays Wednesday at Randolph Southern and returns home Thursday to face Cowan.
This week mimics a sectional week, where many teams will be required to play three games to win a tournament title.
“This is sectional week. This is preparing you for three games next week,” Lewellen said. “We have three games this week, we have three games next week, as long as we keep winning.”