PONETO – Monroe Central girls basketball freshman Kinzie Williams never pictured a scenario when Tuesday’s Class A Southern Wells Sectional title game could be in her hands. Yet when she stepped to the free throw line with 10.8 seconds left in a tied contest against the host Raiders, winners of their last eight sectionals, the unexpected had become reality.
The thoughts she had earlier in the day eventually rang true.
“I felt really good about this game,” Williams said. “I just knew we were going to win from the morning when I woke up. I was nervous, but I just blocked it all out.”
After focusing on the words the staff suggested to calm herself at the line (apple butter), she did just that.
Her free throws provided the winning margin in the 30-28 win that clinched the Golden Bears’ first sectional crown since 2011. To do it, they had to wait two extra days because of weather Saturday, and survive a grind-it-out contest that was tight all 32 minutes.
The win sends Monroe Central (13-12) on to the Tri-Central Regional, where it will face No. 2 Lafayette Central Catholic at noon Saturday.
At the end of the game that saw neither team led by more than six at any point, veteran Raiders coach John Fouts could only sum up the difference concisely as he watched the Bears cut down the nets in the same way his teams had so many times before.
“They made two more free throws and we didn’t,” said Fouts, whose team was plenty young in its own right. “It was going to be a struggle, you could tell that pretty quickly.”
Still, The Golden Bears had a moment when it almost went awry. They held tightly to a small lead through most of the first half, as turnovers (12 before halftime) helped derail the hosts.
But defending champs rarely go down easy, and in the third and early fourth quarters the Raiders (11-14) rallied, aided by Monroe Central giveaways, to put the Bears in a 26-20 hole with 3:41 to go.
In a game that low scoring, a six-point lead could end it. For a team like the Golden Bears with only two seniors and an army of freshmen, it could have been too much.
Junior forward Mikaela McGrath (12 points, six rebounds) never saw them waver.
“Honestly, there was no fear,” she said. “No fear in those freshmen. I see fire is what I see. Fire, and I see intensity. Nobody dropped their head. Nobody gave up. We all stayed in it. We all knew that we could do this. This was our year.”
Abigail McGrath (12 points, 13 rebounds) answered with her own 5-0 run to cut into the lead, and a pair of Williams free throws put the Bears ahead, the teams traded more free throws until Williams (six points) stepped to the line for her the game-winners she never expected to take.
As the team and fans celebrated on the court, there seemed to be a blend of emotions. This team was young, so reliant on freshmen and sophomores, getting this far wasn’t expected. Then there was washing away the history, the last three season-ending losses to the Raiders.
“We’re probably a little early getting this, but I’m really happy for them,” said first-year coach Kirk Comer, noting the team came in with nothing to lose and stayed composed throughout.
For Mikaela McGrath, this one carried weight. She’d played on the past two teams who couldn’t dent the Raiders’ dominance, led a young squad with a new coach to this point.
The gravity of the moment for her was plain to see.
“It means the world,” She said. “Teammates and everyone, with (seniors) Destiny Duncan and Paige Main, and the freshmen, we’re such a young team that it means everything. My whole basketball career, this has been my goal. And I finally feel like I have conquered that goal.”