INDIANAPOLIS – Ask an opposing coach what makes North Central’s top-ranked and undefeated girls basketball team such a juggernaut and be prepared for a long answer.
Cathedral coach Ed Frieje listed 10 factors after his team’s 56-41 loss to North Central in the Class 4A Sectional 10 championship at Warren Central.
Then, he summed it up: “They’re tough,” Frieje said. “They are undefeated for a reason.”
The Panthers (26-0) wrapped up their first sectional title since the 2011-12 team that won a state title, pulling away from Cathedral in a game that was closer throughout than most expected. North Central’s relentless pressure — one of Frieje’s factors — eventually wore down Cathedral, which committed 22 turnovers.
North Central will play Sectional 9 champion New Castle (16-9) in a regional semifinal Saturday at Decatur Central. Pike and Brownsburg are on the other side of the regional bracket.
After a 52-43 win over rival Lawrence North on Friday, North Central found itself in a tussle with Cathedral in the first half. Irish junior guard Keya Patton scored 10 points to ignite her team to a 26-19 lead early in the second quarter.
But with 6 minutes left in the half, Patton picked up her third foul and watched the remainder of the half from the bench. North Central took a 32-28 lead to halftime and Cathedral could never find its rhythm again.
“We really weren’t playing our game early,” North Central coach DeeAnn Ramey said. “We started shooting 3s and didn’t make some good decisions. They made it tough on us. Patton getting in foul trouble early made our press a little more effective when she wasn’t in there. Then we made a change to deny her the ball.”
Senior Ajanae’ Thomas led North Central with 17 points. Sophomore Rikki Harris added nine points and 10 rebounds for the Panthers, who shot 9-for-12 from the field in the second half.
Patton was limited to two points after halftime on 1-for-7 shooting.
“Our defense stepped up a lot,” Harris said. “We switched up who we were guarding and were able to shut them down.”
Ramey, who led North Central to a state title in 2012 in her first season as coach, said the Panthers seemed a little tight on Saturday and throughout the sectional. There hasn’t been an undefeated girls state champion in any class since Bedford North Lawrence pulled the feat in 2013 in Class 4A.
“I think you’re seeing that we’re starting to feel the pressure,” Ramey said. “We have to get back to playing our game instead of questioning ourselves because things aren’t going as easily as they have. We have to keep team-oriented and keep believing in our system and coaches and keep it going. We’re going to compete.”
Cathedral figures to be a team to watch next year with the 5-6 Patton returning. The Irish fell short of winning their first sectional title since 2005.
On the other hand, North Central will also bring back three of its five starters.
“They are very well-coached and they play for each other,” Frieje said of the Panthers. “You can tell they are exceptional teammates. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways on offense and they play really good defense.”
The list goes on. So does North Central.
Call IndyStar reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649. Follow him on Twitter: @KyleNeddenriep.
NORTH CENTRAL 56, CATHEDRAL 41
North Central 17 15 9 15 — 56
Cathedral 22 6 3 10 — 41
North Central (26-0) — Robertson 4 0-0 9, Ramey 3 0-1 8, Harris 2 5-5 9, Stallings 4 0-0 8, Thomas 6 5-6 17, Brockington 2 1-2 5. Totals: 21 11-14 56.
Cathedral (17-9) — Beatty 1 3-3 6, Lee 1 0-0 2, Patton 5 1-2 12, Whitsett 1 0-0 2, Alexander 3 1-2 10, Gordon 4 0-1 9. Totals: 15 5-8 41.
3-point goals: North Central 3 (Ramey 2, Robertson), Cathedral 6 (Alexander 3, Beatty, Patton, Gordon).