INDIANAPOLIS – North Harrison stared down the best basketball team in Class 3-A and didn’t blink until the upset alarms started ringing.
Those warnings awoke Heritage Christian star Tyasha Harris, who rescued the heavily-favored Eagles and powered her team to a record-setting state championship on Saturday night.
Harris scored 27 points and sparked a late 10-3 run as Heritage Christian finally shook free of North Harrison’s tenacious grip and stopped the Cats 51-45 in a closer-than-expected final at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Heritage Christian (26-4) won a record seventh state crown, its first in 3-A after a dynasty run in 2-A.
North Harrison (28-3) would not bow down. These were not scared Cats, and they were within five minutes of a victory what would have stunned the state. They rallied from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter and scratched their way to a 39-39 deadlock midway through the fourth.
Harris took over at that crucial point. She gathered a long rebound and outran the entire North Harrison defense for a go-ahead layup, sank two free throws to extend the lead, then secured the win with a break-away layup with 47 seconds left.
“We had to just finish the deal,” Harris said.
North Harrison, making its first state finals appearance, could have drifted back into obscurity after the Eagles made their first move. Heritage Christian forced the bulk of North Harrison’s 14 first-half turnovers during an early 14-1 spurt.
With two players (starter Cali Nolot and reserve Jessicka Chiquito) already out with injuries, Stevi Burns temporarily sidelined with an ankle injury and starter Taylor Rennirt on the bench with four fouls with 5:11 left in the half, North Harrison was out of bodies and about to get blown out as Heritage surged to a 29-18 lead.
But North Harrison responded with a 15-2 run in the third quarter and retook the lead at 35-33.
“We pulled it together in the third quarter and fought back like I’ve seen all year,” North Harrison coach Missy Voyles said. “They have a really good team, but I think I’ve got a pretty good group. And I think they proved they were not a 20-point underdog, like they were predicted to be.”
“My team,” the Cats’ Hallie Hinton said, “has a lot of heart.”
The first three minutes of the fourth quarter were tense. Harris twice gave the Eagles the lead, but freshman Lilly Hatton buried two free throws and Burns connected on a mid-range jumper to force the 39-39 stalemate that Harris – who missed three days of practice during the week prior to the finals with an illness – ultimately broke.
“That’s why she’s a Miss Basketball candidate,” Heritage coach Rick Risinger said.
Harris also had seven steals, part of the reason North Harrison was guilty of 23 turnovers. DeShawn Harper added 10 points and Katlyn Gilbert had 11 rebounds for the Eagles, but Harris was the constant nemesis, the best athlete on the court, and the final difference-maker.
“She’s everything I was told she was,” Voyles said. “When it came down to it at crunch time, she wanted the ball in her hands and she finished.”
North Harrison hung on by its claws for as long as it could, longer than most expected. The dream of a state championship gives underdogs everywhere a shot of hope. The grip eventually slipped, the fantasy surrendered to reality.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these girls,” Voyles said. “I thought they rebounded well. I thought they defended well.”
Hatton had 11 points and got within range of a triple-double with eight blocked shots and seven rebounds. Carlie Burton, who was named the Mental Attitude Award winner, had 10 points.
“I give a lot of credit to North Harrison,” Risinger said. “I thought they played exceptionally well. There were times they were very physical, and I’m not sure how well we reacted to that. But we stepped up and did what we needed to do at the right times.”
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at email@example.com.
|NORTH HARRISON 45|
|HERITAGE CHRISTIAN 51|
NORTH HARRISON <WL>11 7 17 10 – 45
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN <WL>10 19 6 16 – 51
3-point goals — North Harrison 2-6 (Rennirt 0-1, Hatton 1-1, Hinton 1-2, Burns 0-1, McAfee 0-1); Heritage Christian 3-11 (Gilbert 0-2, Harper 2-7, Harris 1-2).
Shooting percentage — NH 15-42 FG, .357; 13-15, .86; HC 19-54 FG, .352; 10-11 FT, .909.
Steals — NH 8 (Burns 4); HC 19 (Harper 7, Harris 7).
Blocked shots — NH 9 (Hatton 8), HC 7 (Gilbert 3, Foresman 3).
Attendance — NA.