Before the season, Danville coach Kaley May thought her team was a year or two away from being seriously competitive.
The program graduated its two leading scorers from a year ago. Junior Lexi Riggles, the team’s top returning scorer, averaged six points per game.
When the Warriors lost five of their first seven games, success didn’t appear to be close at hand.
“We knew we had a young team experience-wise and had the toughest schedule since I’ve been here, especially in the beginning,” May said. “We had to take our lumps, especially in the beginning, to learn what our strengths and weaknesses were.”
Then the team reeled off four straight wins. The biggest one was the last, a win at Lebanon. Danville hadn’t earned a road win against the Tigers since 2008. May said the win was “a light switch for our team.”
“That was our first game that we put in all four quarters,” said freshman Ella Collier, the team’s leading scorer with 12.6 points per game. “It motivated us to try to do that every single game.”
Even though the team’s confidence was high, it entered the IHSAA state tournament as underdogs. Many considered Beech Grove to be the sectional favorite. The Hornets had beaten Danville by 13 earlier in the season, but the Warriors pulled out a one-point win in the sectional opener.
It took overtime to pull out a 72-71 win over Cardinal Ritter in the sectional title game, and another overtime effort to win a regional title over Crispus Attucks. But style points don’t mean anything. Only wins do.
“We’ve been steadily climbing and preparing for a season like this,” May said. “One of the best things about not expecting to have the success this year is the pressure isn’t on you. You can just go out there and play.”
The Warriors (18-10) will face their stiffest test yet on Saturday against Class 3A No. 1 North Harrison (26-2) at Jeffersonville. The Lady Cats score 63 points and allow 36 points per game.
“Taking care of what you do well and minimizing your weaknesses is huge,” May said. “In this postseason, we’ve realized that we don’t need to change ourselves. We just need to do what we do well. When we’re playing our best basketball we’re a really tough team.”
Riggles said the early-season losses motivated the team to “prove everyone wrong.” They’ve done just that. And she says they’ve earned everything they’ve accomplished.
“A lot of people seem surprised,” she said. “But we’ve worked hard and deserve to be where we are.”
PIKE vs. COLUMBUS NORTH
Tipoff: 3 p.m., Saturday, Richmond
Players to watch: Angel Baker leads the fourth-ranked Red Devils (21-3) with 19.5 points per game while Michaela White (11.1) and Jada Roberson (10.0) also average double-figures. White leads the team in rebounding (8.9 per game) while Baker leads in steals (4.0) and assists (3.6). Maliah Howard-Bass leads Columbus North (21-7) with 16.9 points per game. Imani Guy scores 9.6 and grabs a team-high 6.9 rebounds per game.
The road here: It’s been a wild road for Pike to get to this point. With the exception of the team’s regional opening win, every tournament win has come by three points or less. Its most recent Houdini act came on a last-second steal and layup to knock off then-undefeated North Central in the regional title game. Columbus North won its sectional by two points over Columbus East and knocked off Bedford North Lawrence by four in the regional title game.
At a glance: The Bull Dogs are vying for their third consecutive trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, while Pike is looking for its first-ever trip to the state title game. Pike’s offense will be tested by a Columbus North defense that allows 47 points per game and has allowed 38.6 per game in five tournament games.
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN vs. SOUTH BEND ST. JOSEPH
Tipoff: 1 p.m., Saturday, Crown Point
Players to watch: Notre Dame commit Katlyn Gilbert leads the second-ranked Eagles (21-6), but she has a strong supporting cast in DeShawna Harper and Hannah Williams.
The road here: Heritage faced its toughest test in the sectional final, a 35-28 win over Norwell. Heritage has won its four other tournament games by an average of 20 points. Fourth-ranked South Bend St. Joseph (24-2) has also largely coasted, winning its tournament games by an average of 20 points.
At a glance: Heritage is vying for its fourth straight trip to the state title game while the Indians are looking for their first semistate title since 2005. The Indians score 64 points and allow 35 points per game on the season while Heritage scores 57 and allows 45.
COVENANT CHRISTIAN vs. EASTERN (PEKIN)
Tipoff: 1 p.m., Saturday, Richmond
Players to watch: Covenant Christian (16-9) is led by Bailey Everett (11.4 ppg), Jhordan McGuire (10.4), Rebecca Schrad (10.2) and Mikayla Cleary (10.2). Eastern is led by Rachel Stewart (18.7 ppg) and Taylor Drury (16.3).
The road here: Covenant rolled through its sectional before facing stiffer competition in the regional. The Warriors advanced to semistate with a 52-44 win over Eastern Hancock. Eastern (21-7) advanced with a 54-43 win over South Ripley.
At a glance: Covenant is looking to return to the state title game for a second straight year. Eastern has never been to the title game. Covenant scores 59 points per game and allows 43. The Warriors feature more depth and balance, but Stewart and Drury can both carry Eastern.
TINDLEY vs. WOOD MEMORIAL
Tipoff: 4 p.m., Saturday, Jeffersonville
Players to watch: The seventh-ranked Tigers (21-6) feature a quartet of double-figure scorers: Kendall Fisher (20.7), Skye Williams (20.0), Nola Wilson (13.7) and Trinae’ Love (12.7). Love is also averaging a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game.
The road here: Tindley eked out a 49-47 win over No. 4 Jac-Cen-Del to get to the semistate round. No. 1 Wood Memorial (26-1) got by Vincennes Rivet 46-40.
At a glance: Tindley’s offense is the best in the state (80.1 points per game). However, this total has come down substantially during the tournament, where the Tigers are scoring only 60 points per game. Tindley’s defense will need to step up if it hopes to advance to its first title game since 2007.