FLOYDS KNOBS, Ind – New Albany girls basketball was a heavy favorite entering Friday’s Sectional 15 semifinal against Jennings County, but the Panthers had a different agenda.
Jennings County (11-14) led wire-to-wire and by as many as 17 points en route to a 59-47 win over the Bulldogs (15-7) in the first of two semifinal matchups at Floyd Central. New Albany won the regular-season outing 64-50 on Dec. 10, and the Bulldogs were 5-1 against Jennings Co. during coach Tammy Geron’s tenure prior to Friday’s meeting.
The Panthers, who were led by Sydney Gerkin’s 15 points and 13 rebounds, advance to Saturday night’s championship against Class 4-A No. 9 Bedford North Lawrence (19-4), a 44-34 winner over Jeffersonville in the nightcap.
The Bulldogs’ loss marked the final game for six New Albany seniors – Chyna Anthony, Marissa Jones, Earlean Davis, Sadie Meyer, Danielle Daily and Alexis Smigel. Anthony turned in a 22-point, 13-rebound effort. Jones had four points and four assists, and Davis tallied seven points.
“They’re just fantastic kids,” Geron said. “They’ve given us everything they have for the past four years. I’ve really enjoyed coaching them. They’re just really fun kids. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. It’s always heartbreaking to send a group like them out like this. They’re going to do great things on the next level.”
Jennings County led 4-0 with 5:02 left in the opening period before Anthony scored the Bulldogs’ first field goal midway through. The Panthers took a 10-3 lead with 1:56 left on a layup from Alexus Brown in transition.
The Bulldogs, who shot 2-for-12 and turned it over six times in the first period, trailed 14-5 entering the second quarter. The Panthers went 5 of 13 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line to grab the early advantage.
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Anthony opened second-quarter scoring for the Bulldogs with a steal and layup, and two free throws from Davis inched New Albany within 14-9 two minutes in, but the momentum was short-lived. Jennings County answered with a 13-2 run for a 27-11 lead with 2:30 left in the half. The Bulldogs battled back but trailed 32-21 at the break.
“I thought we rushed some things,” Geron said. “We got into a hole there at the beginning. … We really needed to establish an inside game, and it took us a really long time to do that. Beginning of the game, I thought we took shots a little early against their defense. I think it really took the kids back on their emotions. It’s the first game of the tournament. Once (Jennings County) got momentum, it just kept rolling their way.”
Anthony continued to give New Albany life early in the second half with a bucket that cut the Jennings County lead to 10, but the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize. Gerkin answered for the Panthers, who later extended their advantage to 42-27 with 1:43 remaining in the quarter. A Jones 3-pointer made a 44-32 score heading into the fourth.
The lead was eight with 1:56 remaining before Jennings County went 5-for-6 from the line down the stretch. The Panthers finished 18 of 20 from the charity stripe.
Bedford North Lawrence 44, Jeffersonville 34: The Stars earned a bit of revenge Friday night in the form of a sectional semifinal win over the Red Devils (16-8), who outlasted ninth-ranked BNL 43-34 in the teams’ regular-season meeting.
In what proved to be another defensive matchup, the Stars took an 18-17 lead into halftime before outscoring Jeffersonville 13-7 in the third quarter. Behind a combined 35 points from McKenzie Messmore, Jorie Allen and Kennedy Bunch, BNL held on down the stretch. The Red Devils shot 28 percent from the floor.
“We talked about the first three or four minutes of that third quarter being huge for us,” Jeffersonville coach Mike Warren said. “In turn, they flipped it on us and they had that three- or four-minute spurt. That was the difference in the game. We were struggling to score, but I think we lost our minds a little bit defensively. I didn’t think we were competing like we normally do defensively.”
The Red Devils, who entered 5-0 versus sectional opponents, graduate two seniors off this year’s team in Jhala Henry and Jaelyn Lee, who tallied nine and two points, respectively, on Friday. Warren returns 10 players next year, but there’s no replacing the senior duo’s passion, he said.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without those two,” Warren said. “We have 10 returners and we have a heck of a lot of talent coming back, but as I told them in there, we’re going to have to replace their hearts. We can probably replace their physical ability and basketball skills, but to replace two competitors and warriors with hearts like that – you just don’t find kids like that.”
Sectional 15 semifinals at Floyd Central
Jennings County 59, New Albany 47
Panthers (11-14): Sidney Gerkin 15p, 13r; Callie Wilder 8p, 4r; Alexus Brown 8p, 9r; Kylee Matern 10p; Macy Roth 11p, 2r, 2a; Eliza Gasper 3p; Baylee Byford 4p, 2r, 2a
Bulldogs (15-7): Chyna Anthony 22p, 13r; Marissa Jones 4p, 4a; Julyen Condra 6p, 3r; Alayasia Douglas 3p; Kelsy Taylor 5p, 6r; Earlean Davis 7p, 2r
BNL 44, Jeffersonville 34
Stars (19-4): Jorie Allen 12p, 7r; Kennedy Bunch 10p, 3r; McKenzie Messmore 13p, 3r, 3a; Allie Fugate 6p; Jacy Hughes 3p
Red Devils (16-8): Jhala Henry 9p, 3r; Jaelyn Lee 2p, 3r; Jacinta Gibson 4p, 3r; Nan Garcia 3p; Britney Epperson 2p; Chelsea Gibson 3p, 4r; Tori Handley 11p