by Beau Wicker
Logansport girls basketball coach Jerry Hoover has been around high school basketball for a long time.
So he knows that come tournament time big upsets happen every year. When his Berries were able to pull away in the second half to a 58-36 win over Kokomo on Saturday night at the Berry Bowl to secure the sectional championship, Hoover sounded very relieved.
“I’m really happy with the team. I thought we played a very good second half,” he said.
The Class 4A No. 4 Berries (24-1) entered the sectional as the big favorite having defeated every team in the field in the regular season by at least a 22-point margin. In sectional play, they handled McCutcheon 48-21, Harrison 75-48 and Kokomo 58-36. In doing so, like they have all season, they showed the ability to win in a variety of different ways.
Against Kokomo, the Berries led just 23-21 at halftime. They had chances at different points to break open a decent-sized lead in the first half, but they had some shots that didn’t fall while the Wildkats hit some big shots to keep it close.
In the second half, star guard Whitney Jennings, held to just two points in the first half, exploded for nine points in the third quarter to help the Berries create some separation. Rachel Jennings also hit two big 3-pointers in the frame to help the Berries go up 45-32 after three.
The Berries ended up outscoring the Wildkats 35-15 in the second half.
“We said at the half we need to get her going. We didn’t tell the girls that we needed to get Whit going, but the coaches all said we need to get her going,” Hoover said. “I thought she did a great job of getting herself going because on the break she just pulled back and she was perfectly relaxed knocking down those 15 footers, and those 15 footers are daggers in the heart of the opponent. And Rachel knocked down a couple of big 3s to get us going right at the start of the third.”
Another star of the game for the Berries was Nakeya Penny, who scored a career-high 24 points in the contest. Her previous career high was 23 in a game at Richmond last season as a freshman.
Penny was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 8 from the foul line. The 5-foot-11 sophomore showed the ability to take the ball to basket off the bounce and is a crafty finisher around the hoop.
“We’ve been trying to get her for two years to go to the basket,” Hoover said. “When she turns and faces and starts to go to the basket, she’s got a variety of finger rolls and so forth that she’ll get the ball in the basket and get the foul.”
Logansport public address announcer Greg Dominick has often yelled, “Penny! To the hoop for 2,” since 2007, the last time Logan won a sectional during Nakeya’s older sister Jasmine’s freshman season for the Berries. Jasmine is now a standout player at DePaul and is Logan’s all-time leading scorer on the girls side. Nakeya’s older brother Antonio is set to become Logan’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer on the boys side during tonight’s game at Winamac. And with the way Nakeya has played in her first two seasons for the Berries, Dominick probably better get his voice ready for many more of those calls.
Kiley Victor, as she has been all season, was another key for the Berries. She grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and added three points in the win.
“And then again, always the unsung hero is Victor, rebound after rebound, defense after defense, rebound after rebound, defense after defense,” Hoover said. “She’s pushing on a girl that’s at least 75, 80 pounds bigger than she is and she’s getting them rooted out of there. She did a great job inside defensively.”
Krista Kyyroenen scored five quick points in the second quarter to help build up an early lead for the Berries. Madyson Price and Sydney Bullard also played key minutes in the win.
Hoover thought a big stat against the Wildkats was that the Berries outrebounded them 35-26 for the game.
“I told them if we win the boards, I thought we’d win,” he said.
The Berries’ recent success against Kokomo illustrates how strong the program has been in recent years. The Berries have defeated the Wildkats five times in a row and have won eight of the last 12 meetings since the 2007 season.
Hoover said he knew his squad would have to beat the 14-win Wildkats squad to win the sectional title.
“When I saw them play McCutcheon, I came back and I told the girls they are not the same team. Kokomo is the team for us that we’re going to have to beat,” he said. “Always before we could press them and beat them. But they’ve got people in there now that do a pretty good job against the press. They’re big. Then [Saturday], they shot the 3 pretty well. They’re a much-improved basketball team. We’re just happy to win this thing.”
The Berries won their 10th sectional title, the first since 2007 and the second in the class sports era.
Since the 2007 season, the Berries have gone 132-31 (.810 winning percentage), which includes going 39-10 (.796) in North Central Conference play. They’ve won three NCC titles in that time including two in a row. Their four NCC titles overall are the fourth most in conference history, as Kokomo leads the way with 14. The Berries have gone 10-6 (.625) in IHSAA Tournament play since 2007.
Logan faces Fort Wayne Snider at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Kokomo Regional at Memorial Gymnasium. Fort Wayne South faces No. 10 Westfield in the noon semifinal. The final is set for 8 p.m.