By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune
---- — Logansport is making a return trip to the Class 4A Kokomo girls basketball regional on Saturday.
The Lady Berries are the lone team there with regional experience from last season. The many Berry fans that attended the regional a year ago saw top-notch competition.
Logan coach Jerry Hoover said to expect the same.
“I think it’ll be like a heavyweight championship fight over there,” he said. “We have to think that we have a chance to win it.”
The No. 11-ranked Berries (22-2) face Fort Wayne Carroll (10-12) at noon, following the 10 a.m. game between No. 4 Homestead (23-1) and No. 14 Fishers (20-4). The championship game is at 8 p.m.
The Berries have shown big improvement since the start of the season to get themselves in the position to repeat as Sectional 7 champions. The Berries ran through a gauntlet of McCutcheon, Harrison and Marion to claim their 11th sectional title and third since 2007.
The Berries enter the regional as a confident bunch.
“It’s going to be tough but we’re going in with the same mindset we had last year and we’re not just there to be in it, we’re there to win it,” said senior guard Whitney Jennings, a leading Miss Basketball candidate.
Jennings leads the state in scoring at 32.1 points per game. The 5-foot-5 guard adds 8.5 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 5.4 steals per contest.
She enters the regional sixth all-time in state history in career scoring (2,548 points), fourth in assists (683) and eighth in steals (395), according to HickoryHusker.com.
Jennings is an Iowa recruit, and teammate Nakeya Penny is also getting some Division-I interest. Penny, a 5-10 junior, is averaging 18.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Jennings and Penny are the only two players that saw extensive varsity time during last year’s tournament run, although Sydney Bullard got some run as well. Bullard’s play has stepped up in recent weeks and her 12 rebounds were a key in the sectional win over McCutcheon.
Bullard, a 5-9 junior, is a volleyball standout and has good athleticism. As does Kennedy Curl, the daughter of Logan legend John Curl, who played on the 1991 state champion baseball team and nearly played in the Major Leagues. Just a sophomore, Curl has worked her way into the starting lineup with strong defensive play and rebounding.
Curl, Katrina Neuendorf and Karli Armstrong have all been defensive standouts at guard throughout the year. Jennings, Neuendorf and Sam Kain are the three seniors on the team. Kain plays good defense inside and boxes out well, an area that has been a focus throughout the year. Kain also has had some big putback baskets down the stretch.
Freshman Madison Dalton has worked her way into the starting lineup. Her shooting has improved as the year has gone along and she nailed four 3-pointers that were big in the sectional win over Harrison.
The Berries are facing a Carroll team that was the surprise winner of Sectional 5. The Chargers enter having won five games in a row and seven of their last eight. Their only loss during that time was to Eastern Noble, which they avenged in the sectional final.
Eastern Noble had two 6-foot-1 players that led it to a hard-fought 59-54 win over Fort Wayne Snider in the sectional semifinal despite 33 points from Deja Wimby. Carroll then dropped Eastern Noble 65-49 in the final.
Carroll is led in scoring by 5-6 junior Madison Peterson (14.3 ppg) and 5-11 sophomore Kierstin Murphy (10.9 ppg) and led in rebounding by 6-2 sophomore Jacqueline Quade (6.5 rpg) and 6-foot senior Sara Stilwell (5.8). Beth Schaefer, a 5-9 junior, adds 6.7 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Peterson scored 22 points, Murphy had 16 and Schaefer had 14 in the sectional win over East Noble. Stilwell had nine boards and Schaefer added eight.
Carroll started the season 3-11 before beginning its current run with a win over Warsaw.
“Their record is not that great but a lot of times teams start the year off kind of bad. They’ve won seven of their last eight and they’re playing good right now,” Jennings said.
Carroll’s height advantage concerns Hoover.
“They’re getting better and better and they’re big. They’ve got a good coach and any time that you’re in this situation you’re going to run into a good team,” he said.
Homestead enters as the favorite to win the regional. The Spartans’ lone loss was to defending 4A state champion Bedford North Lawrence at the Hall of Fame Classic in late December. The Spartans have five starters back from last year’s team that lost to Fort Wayne South Side by one point in the sectional final. South Side went on to defeat Logan in regional play before letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away against Bedford in a three-point loss in the state title game. Homestead knocked off South Side 79-70 in this year’s sectional final.
Likely Indiana All-Star Sydney Buck leads the Spartans with a 17.7-ppg average and the Butler recruit shoots 47.4 percent from 3. Freshman Karissa McLaughlin averages 17.1 ppg and shoots 39.2 percent from beyond the arc. Josie Fisher adds 11.5 ppg and 6-foot junior Grace German posts 10.5 ppg and 8.8 rpg.
Fishers won the always formidable Sectional 8, bouncing strong teams from Noblesville and Westfield by double digits to win the title.
The Tigers are led by Kara Gerka (16.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Alex Hochstedler (15.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Brooke Sugg (10.1 ppg) and Audriana Murphy (8.1 ppg).
While Homestead averages 74.8 ppg, Fishers allows just 38.5.
“Homestead, I’ve seen them play and they’re very good. Same with Fishers. I think that could potentially be a really, really good game,” Jennings said.
The Berries won their second straight sectional title, third straight North Central Conference title and were the champions of the Twin Lakes Holiday Tournament this season. Their lone losses were a one-point loss on a last-second 3-pointer to Gary West at the Region Roundball Rumble on New Year’s Day and four-point loss at Carmel on Jan. 18. They enter having won eight straight games.
“Looking back we could have gone undefeated. We lost a close one to Gary West and Carmel, we should have won that, we didn’t play our best,” Jennings said. “But I feel like after those two games we started to pick it up a little bit.”