YORKTOWN — If the New Castle girls basketball team wanted to leave Yorktown victorious, there was one player on the inside they’d need to shut down.
Jenna Irelan was averaging 16.8 points and just over 13 rebounds per game heading into the contest, and if she got the ball near the basket, it was going to be a long day for the Trojans.
They held her to just seven points on 1 of 8 shooting as New Castle defeated Yorktown 47-21 in a battle of one-loss teams.
Every time Irelan touched the ball in the post, there were two defenders on her. The Trojans spent most of the game playing in a 2-3 zone, taking away the paint for the Tigers.
“It was part of our main game plan. Any girl who’s averaging a double-double, I don’t think there’s more than a handful in the entire state,” New Castle coach Corie West said. “It really hurt Yorktown that she didn’t get what she usually got.”
Even though New Castle didn’t have many who could match the size of Irelan, they were equally physical, boxing her out and now allowing her to sit on the spots she wanted. When she was able to take shots, they were well defended and New Castle players immediately hit the boards.
“(Irelan) wasn’t able to get into position like she has in past game,” Yorktown coach Jay Matthews said. “She tried to play aggressive and take good shots, but they’re a good, aggressive team.”
With Irelan neutralized on the offensive end, New Castle turned its focus to increasing the tempo in the second half, forcing 21 turnovers and executing in transition.
Few players could keep up with Laura Thomas, who finished with 11 points. During the third quarter, she stripped a Yorktown player just past mid-court and raced to the basket for an easy bucket.
“Pressuring without fouling is a big thing for us,” Thomas said. “I think it picked up our momentum on offense, too.”
Playing without Olivia Porter, who missed the game due to illness, New Castle was forced to rely on its defense more than usual. Porter is one of the Trojans’ weapons on offense and with one of the cogs missing, it was a slow start until the defense started forcing turnovers.
One of the keys to that defense is Cassie Underwood. She won’t intimidate anyone with her size but her intelligence on the floor showed, as she had a knack for being in the right place disrupt the Yorktown attack.
“She’s 5-foot-2 at the tallest, but she plays like she’s 6-foot and has a wingspan of about six feet,” West said. “She knows where to go and where she’s supposed to be.”
Cassie Underwood knocked down three shots for six points while Samantha Underwood and Ryan Blankenship each added eight points.
Contact prep sports reporter David Polaski at (765) 213-5848. Follow him on Twitter @DavidPolaskiTSP.