HAGERSTOWN, Ind. – Rob Bills watched the tape three times Friday.
The first-year Lincoln coach concentrated on the fourth quarter of his Golden Eagles’ 59-53 regular-season loss to Centerville on Nov. 25.
Friday’s rematch in the Wayne County Tournament turned out differently, and a strong defensive effort from Lincoln is one of the main reasons why.
Kylei Klein and Kerrigan Neff each posted a double-double and the Golden Eagles earned a spot in Monday’s 6 p.m. girls basketball championship with a 39-35 win over the Bulldogs.
“We have not been very good defensively all year long, and tonight we stepped up and played really solid defense,” said Bills, whose team will play today’s Hagerstown-Northeastern winner in Monday’s final. “I’m really proud of the kids. We threw a few wrinkles in, and they helped us.”
Especially down the stretch.
Lincoln limited Centerville to just two points in the final 6:31 of play. The Golden Eagles outscored the Bulldogs 12-2 in that time to take the victory, their second in three games.
“They played hard. They played physical,” Centerville coach Jason Searcy said of his squad. “They did everything that was in the game plan. Sometimes basketball just comes down to putting the ball in the basket, and we didn’t do that in the second half very well.”
A tight first half went to Centerville after Shelby Short, playing in her first game back from injury for the Bulldogs, nailed a 3-pointer 3 seconds before halftime for a 15-12 lead.
Centerville extended that lead by as many as eight in the third quarter, but the Golden Eagles didn’t let the Bulldogs stretch it any more. Lincoln’s Lauren Weston swished a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining, and the Golden Eagles cut the deficit to 28-25 heading into the final frame.
Centerville surged to a 31-25 lead after a quick trey by Kaylin Smith, but the Bulldogs scored just two more baskets the rest of the quarter.
“I think I’m a good defensive coach, and we have not shown that this year,” Bills said. “It’s really bothered me. The thing we do well is, we attack the basket when we have the ball … and that puts a lot of pressure on the other teams.
“I just can’t say enough. … I couldn’t be more thrilled. Centerville has a great team. They are always tough to play.”
Klein had game highs of 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Neff finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Kassidy West added nine points and seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles (4-9), while Hannah Hall grabbed a critical rebound late in the fourth quarter.
Smith and Karly Jennings each scored 10 points for the Bulldogs (2-12). Jennings had seven rebounds and Smith six.
Defense wasn’t the only difference for Lincoln compared to November’s Tri-Eastern Conference meeting.
“They (the Golden Eagles) rebounded a lot better this game,” Searcy said. “They switched it up a lot on us. Once they went to their zone, we were settling for a lot of jumpshots, and if they’re not going in, you have to find other ways to score.”
Lincoln last won the tournament in 2013. Hagerstown is the defending champion and has won three of the last four tournament titles.
“You can’t win a championship until you win the first game,” Bills said. “We just have to put ourselves in that position.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 email@example.com or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
GOLDEN EAGLES 39, TIGERS 35
LINCOLN (4-11)– Hall 0 1-2 1, Weston 2 1-2 7, West 2 5-8 9, Klein 2 8-12 12, Neff 5 0-2 10, Steele 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0. TOTALS– 11 15-26 39.
CENTERVILLE (2-12)-Stamper 0 0-0 0, Honkomp 1 1-2 3, Ross 1 0-0 3, Jennings 5 0-0 10, Wert 0 0-0 0, Smith 3 2-2 10, Short 2 0-0 5, Kates 2 0-0 4. TOTALS-14 3-4 35.
Lincoln 4 12 25 39
Centerville 8 15 28 35
3-pointers– LIN 2 (Weston 2), CEN 4 (Ross, Smith 2, Short). Rebounds-LIN 38 (Klein 13), CEN 30 (Jennings 7). Turnovers-LIN 19, CEN 15. Fouls-LIN 11, CEN 20. Fouled out-Jennings.