By Beau Wicker
---- — CROWN POINT — One of the great basketball careers in Logansport history — and state history for that matter — came to an end Saturday at the Class 4A Northern Semistate.
Whitney Jennings led a spirited comeback for Logansport after falling in an early double-digit hole against No. 4 Penn. The Berries grabbed the lead in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on in a 44-41 loss to the Kingsmen.
Penn (25-1) will face defending state champion Bedford North Lawrence (26-1) next Saturday for the state title in Terre Haute. The Berries (24-3) have to settle for a Final Four finish and the first semistate appearance in program history.
“Just to be able to get here, people didn’t expect us to be here, let alone win, so we were three points away from the state championship game,” Jennings said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s just how it is.”
The Berries entered averaging just seven turnovers a game, an amazing stat for a girls basketball team that can largely be attributed to Jennings’ expert ballhandling ability. But against the state’s best defensive team statistically — Penn leads Class 4A allowing just 33.5 ppg — the Berries had seven turnovers in the first quarter alone in falling in a quick 12-2 deficit after one quarter. The only Berries’ basket was on a Nakeya Penny runner with 5:45 left that gave them a 2-0 lead.
“The best defensive team we’ve faced all year and we knew they were going to throw something at us in the first quarter,” Jennings said. “It took us awhile to adjust to what they were doing, but they definitely threw us off at first.”
The Berries clawed back to within 19-12 at halftime. They made some adjustments at the half and more than doubled their offensive production to that point in the third quarter, and a Jennings steal and layup late in the frame brought them all the way back to a 27-27 tie entering the fourth bringing the large Logansport crowd in attendance to a frenzy.
Crown Point’s gym was jam-packed with Berry fans — at least 3,000 in the 4,000-seat arena.
“Our crowd was amazing,” Jennings said. “They are what kept us in the game.”
The Berries continued the run in the fourth quarter and a Penny block led to a Jennings three-point play that gave them a 33-27 lead with 7:08 left in the game, completing a 13-0 run.
“We were feeling it, I think,” Jennings said.
Two Jennings free throws with 5:31 left gave the Berries a 35-29 lead.
The Berries then ran into trouble with free-throw shooting in the final 4:19, making just 2 of 8 down the stretch.
Jennings made 2 of 3 during that time and 7 of 8 for the game but her teammates missed on five straight attempts down the stretch.
Meanwhile Penn kept clawing back and making its free throws — the Kingsmen made 9 of 12 in the final 4:39 other than two misses with just one second left on the clock.
Logan took a 36-31 on a Jennings free throw with 3:47 left. Penn’s Jessica Alexander then scored on a drive and then a putback to cut the lead to one, and a driving basket by Kaitlyn Marenyl gave the Kingsmen their first lead of the fourth quarter with 1:45 remaining.
The Berries continued their struggles at the line, and Jennings was called for charging while trying to score in transition with 1:19 left when the Berries trailed by two.
A Jennings pullup jumper cut the lead to 40-38 with 40 seconds left. Alexander answered with two free throws to push the lead back up to four, but Jennings scored a three-point play with 22.5 seconds left to cut it to 42-41.
Kamra Solomon hit a pair of free throws to push Penn’s lead up to three. Jennings got a good look from 3 from the left wing with 15 seconds to go but the shot was off. Jennings and Penny both had four fouls so they wanted to avoid a fifth, and it took the Berries until one second was left to foul. Alexander missed both attempts but Logan was unable to come up with a clean rebound for a last-second desperation try.
“We didn’t execute the way we need to at the end,” Logan coach Jerry Hoover said. “We went to four corners and when you go to four corners you’ve got to make layups or free throws and we didn’t do either one. Then the referees figure out a way to call a couple charges, so the game gets over and it gets out of hand, that’s all.”
The Berries were whistled for four charging calls in the game. Penny was also called for one with 3:03 left when they still led by three.
But the Berries had their chances.
“We had a shot right up to the last second, we had a shot to get it, we just didn’t get them, that’s all,” Hoover said.
Jennings finished with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists in her final game in a Berry uniform. She assisted five of the Berries’ seven made field goals other than her own.
Penny added 17 points and six boards. The only other Berry to reach the scoring column was Sydney Bullard who was 1 of 2 from the foul line and added six rebounds. Madison Dalton added a team-high eight rebounds.
Alexander led the Kingsmen with 13 points and eight rebounds. No other Kingsmen scored over six points in the balanced effort.
The Berries’ initial halfcourt defense was stout. They allowed just 13 field goals in the contest but four were on putbacks and three were on fastbreaks. But for the most part the Berries held their own on the boards against the taller Kingsmen as they were outrebounded 34-30. Each team committed 11 turnovers.
The Kingsmen win with defense and they held the Berries to 15 of 41 shooting from the field (36.6 percent).
Penny said the Kingsmen were the best defensive team she’s seen.
“I don’t think we knew what to do the first half so we came out a little soft,” she said. “We really got off to a slow start. That was one of our worst first halves of basketball and Hoover told us that. We tried to come back strong in the second half.”
The Berries were pretty efficient in the second half up until they ran into problems at the free-throw line in the final 4:19.
Jennings finishes her career with 2,641 points, 699 assists and 404 steals. She will graduate high school as fifth in scoring, fourth in assists and seventh in steals all-time in state history.
She joins her father, Doug, in leading a team to the Final Four. Doug Jennings’ Argos Dragons made a Final Four run in 1979 with an enrollment of about 200. While Logansport has an enrollment of about 1,250, it’s still about a third of the size of Penn, one of the largest high schools in the state.
The University of Iowa-bound Jennings looked back on her stellar Berry career after a tough loss to end it at the semistate.
“The past four years of high school basketball have been amazing and I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything,” she said. “Just knowing that we were so close to a state championship game, it hurts a little but looking back it’s only going to bring a smile to my face.”