The Covenant Christian girls basketball program fought uphill all afternoon in its first state finals appearance. This time, the Warriors couldn’t mount a comeback.
Lafayette Central Catholic defeated Covenant Christian 56-43 in the Class 2A championship on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
A week ago in Richmond, the third-ranked Warriors had scored the game’s final 11 points to steal a 59-53 win over Providence in the semistate.
There were a few stops and starts for Covenant Christian on Saturday, but No. 4 Lafayette Central Catholic had an answer every time. The Knights, playing in 2A for the first time after moving up under the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s tournament success factor, defeated all four of the other teams ranked in the top five on their way to the title.
“We just couldn’t get over that hump,” Covenant Christian coach Joe Smith said. “Offensively, we just couldn’t get there.”
Covenant Christian (23-6) trailed throughout. Lafayette Central Catholic 6-foot sophomore Libby Bonner, who came in averaging 7.1 points, had 14 points at halftime to stake the Knights to a 35-22 lead.
Smith said it wasn’t a matter of his team not being aware of Bonner – she was just tough to stop.
“We talked all we week about them having great role players,” Smith said. “We really felt like she was capable of getting 20 points and 10 boards in a game. She’s played really well for them in the tournament.”
The Warriors slowed Bonner in the second half, though she finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots. But Lafayette Central Catholic could turn to star senior Cameron Onken, a Villanova recruit who finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
The Knights, after winning a regional in 2014 and a state title last year in Class A, were probably not considered one of the favorites to win 2A in the preseason.
“We had to prove ourselves in 2A,” said Onken, who was named the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award winner following the game. “People kind of lost respect for us because we went up to 2A and they didn’t think we’d be able to accomplish anything. But we kind of came together right at the beginning of the postseason, which is when you want to.”
Onken hit a pair of free throws midway through the third quarter to stretch Lafayette Central Catholic’s lead to 40-22, the biggest of the game. Covenant Christian responded with an 8-0 run as senior Kaitlyn Luikart scored an old-fashioned three-point play and hit a 3-pointer from 25 feet.
As it happened all game, Lafayette Central Catholic had an answer. The lead was back to 15 by the end of the third quarter. Luikart, who finished with a team-high 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the 3-point line, kept firing into the fourth quarter.
Her 3-pointer with 4:50 left cut Lafayette Central Catholic’s lead to 50-40. But that would be Covenant Christian’s final push.
“She didn’t play as many minutes as she wanted to last week,” Smith said of Luikart. “I know that wasn’t easy for her and we had a talk about that. But from the first day we took the floor this week, she was positive and encouraging. She has leadership skills and understands the game. How she played today for us was huge.”
The Knights limited Covenant Christian’s leading scorer, junior Rachel McLimore, to 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting. The team, other than Luikart, shot just 26 percent from the field.
But the loss did little to diminish the accomplishments of the team. Covenant Christian’s only other state finals appearance came in Class A boys soccer in 2012.
“It’s a big deal,” said senior Sarah McLimore. “I’m really proud of all that we’ve done. Early in the season we had goals to play on the biggest stage, but we knew it would take a lot of hard work. I feel like we put in the work. Unfortunately we didn’t execute at the end but fingers crossed, if all goes well, I think our team can make a run at it next year.”
There were 6,304 fans in attendance for the morning session.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
LAF. CENTRAL CATHOLIC 56, COVENANT CHRISTIAN 43
Covenant Christian 9 13 8 13 – 43
Laf. Central Catholic 17 18 10 11 – 56
Lafayette Central Catholic (25-5) – Onken 5 9-12 21, Harkom 2 1-2 5, Thompson 4 2-4 12, Bonner 7 2-5 16, Gerrety 0 1-2 1, Cherry 0 1-2 1. Totals: 18 16-27 56.
Covenant Christian (23-6) – Cleary 3 0-0 6, Halderman 1 0-0 2, R. McLimore 5 4-6 14, S. McLimore 2 0-1 4, Luikart 5 1-1 15, Cooper 1 0-0 2. Totals: 17 5-8 43.
3-point goals: Covenant Christian 4 (Luikart 4), Central Catholic 4 (Onken 2, Thompson).
Rebounds: Covenant Christian 30 (S. McLimore 8, Luikart 6, R. McLimore 4, Cleary 3), Central Catholic 39 (Bonner 13, Onken 9, Thompson 5)