KOKOMO — The Carmel defense came up big in the first half against second-ranked Homestead’s high-octane offensive attack.
But the Spartans’ offense — which leads Class 4A in scoring this season — was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Early in the third quarter, it exploded.
After holding Homestead to 21 points in the first half — and its leading scorer, Karissa McLaughlin, scoreless — the 5-8 junior guard caught fire, scoring 23 second-half points to lead the Spartans to a 56-46 win against the Greyhounds on Saturday night in the regional finals.
Homestead (26-2) advances to play fourth-ranked Penn in Saturday’s semistate. Carmel, which beat Zionsville in the regional semifinals earlier in the day, finishes its season 23-5.
Unlike the Greyhounds’ Jan. 9 matchup against Homestead, where the Greyhounds held the Spartans to a season-low 34 points in a 34-30 loss, Homestead found its rhythm in the third quarter.
“I think our defense was very good in the first half,” Carmel coach Tod Windlan said. “Once we got down in the second half, we had to change things up. Great players find a way to score, and (McLaughlin) did. She took the game over. Mistakes were a part of that, but some of that had to do with her.”
McLaughlin, who averages 25 points per game, was 0-for-5 from the field in the first half, as Carmel junior guard Olivia Christy played great defense on her.
But with Homestead leading 27-26 with 6:14 to play in the third quarter, McLaughlin found the rim for a layup to push her team’s lead to three. Forty seconds later, she connected on a 3-point play and the Spartans led 32-26. Homestead finished the third quarter on an 11-5 run and led 38-32 entering the fourth.
In the first two minutes of the final quarter, McLaughlin connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to give her team an eight-point lead. Seventh-ranked Carmel never climbed within six in the closing minutes.
“I thought we came out with tremendous energy tonight,” said Homestead coach Rod Parker, whose team averages 73 points per game. “We made some big plays when we needed to on both ends of the floor. I thought Carmel did a great job on (McLaughlin) early on defensively. A lot of other girls stepped up. But when they went to a zone, she got some good locks, and she knocked down some shots.”
Carmel slowed the game down in the first half like it did in its earlier matchup against Homestead. The Greyhounds held on to the ball for the final three minutes of the second quarter but weren’t able to capitalize with a bucket.
Carmel trailed 12-11 after the first quarter and 21-19 at halftime.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump tonight,” Windlan said. “I told the kids to walk out with their heads high. They played with passion and intensity and gave it their all. I felt like we did that.
“They were just better tonight. They shot the ball well.”
Homestead shot 19-of-35 as a team and 8-of-15 from behind the arc. Carmel finished 17-of-36 but just 4-of-14 from 3-point range.
Sophomore guard Amy Dilk scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds for the Greyhounds, and teammate Olivia Christy added 10 points.
“I think she’s the best sophomore point guard in the state,” Windlan said of Dilk. “If she isn’t, I’d like to see who.”
Parker left impressed with the Greyhounds, a team who challenged the Spartans twice this season.
“Carmel is a great team; one of the best in the state,” Parker said. “Windlan does a great job with the kids. They’re a great defensive team with length. They have five kids that can guard the perimeter.”
HOMESTEAD 56, CARMEL 46
Carmel 11 8 13 14 – 46
Homestead 12 9 17 18 – 56
Homestead (26-2) — Parker 12, McLaughlin 23, Buck 6, Kistler 4, Geist 8, Weaver 3. Totals 19 10-18 56.
Carmel (23-5) — Christy 10, Kmec 4, Kwasniewski 2, Dilk 19, Smith 9, Larson 2. Totals 17 8-12 46.
3-Point Goals – Carmel 4 (Christy 3, Kmec). Homestead 8 (Parker 3, McLaughlin 2, Buck 2, Weaver).