By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune
---- — The Logansport girls basketball team’s semistate run ignited and brought together the town as much as a sports team has since perhaps the 2004 and 2005 LHS football teams.
The Berries had a huge following all season but especially at the regional and then the semistate, where an estimated 3,000-plus fans made the two-hour trip to Crown Point. In fact the Berry contingent of fans may have outnumbered Penn’s by 8-to-1.
The Berries erased an early 12-point deficit against the Kingsmen and took a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But they were unable to hold on in a 44-41 loss.
“It’s tough that it’s over and just the fact that we were so close to what ultimately our goal was, it’s sad to see it end but it’s all a part of it,” said star guard Whitney Jennings, one of the leading candidates for Miss Basketball this year.
No. 4-ranked Penn (25-1), which will play No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence (26-1) Saturday night in the Class 4A state championship game at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute, had a good game plan going in to face Jennings and the Berries (24-3).
The Kingsmen were very patient on offense and did their best to push the ball inside against the Berries’ packed-in 2-3 zone defense. On defense they utilized a high extended 3-2 zone to put at least two defenders up top against Jennings with all 10 eyes on her in the set, and they had the size and athleticism to make it effective enough.
Jennings still managed 23 points, six rebounds and five assists despite all of the attention. She was 7 of 8 from the foul line for the game and Berry fans probably thought she should have gone there more.
Her main running mate, Nakeya Penny, added 17 points and six boards.
Penny hit a 3 to start the fourth quarter to give the Berries a 30-27 lead, and Penny blocked a shot that led to a three-point play for Jennings on the other end of the court to give Logan a six-point lead with seven minutes left to play.
The Berries are usually lethal with a fourth-quarter lead, but they hit just 2 of 8 free throws in the final 4:19 that cost them a chance at icing the game at the line. They led by five points with just over 3:30 left to play but were unable to hold on.
Penn, meanwhile, got to the basket three times for scores in the final 3:30 and made 9 of 14 free throws in the final 4:39 after making 4 of 7 over the first 27 minutes of the game.
Penn went 13 of 21 from the line for the game to Logan’s 10 of 17 in what was a pretty even game statistically.
The Kingsmen had a much more balanced scoring attack but the Berries did show how much they had improved since the start of the season defensively. Like Jennings and Penny, Sydney Bullard, Kennedy Curl and Maddie Dalton all came up with big steals and rebounds throughout the contest. They also showed good fitness by all playing almost the entire game.
“Our defense was pretty good,” Jennings said. “Our defense kept improving over the year.”
The Berries trailed 14-2 early in the second quarter and 19-12 at halftime. Jennings said she took it upon herself to get them back into the game.
“I think in the first half I was playing timid, I guess, because the second half I just decided that I was going to go to the basket. I had to do something, so it’s just kind of what I decided,” she said. “The mindset in the first half was we weren’t attacking very well and the second half we knew we had to.”
Jennings often was able to dribble around and through several defenders to score near the hoop.
Another key to the second-half run was Jennings got the ball in the middle of the zone to Penny where she was able to do some damage.
Said Penny, “[Logan coach Jerry] Hoover told me to get in the middle and told her to pass me the ball and hand it off to her so she could go to the basket.”
The Berries were able to advance farther than they ever have in program history despite having three first-year fulltime varsity players. They did so by seeing big improvement from Jennings and Penny as well as their teammates. Hoover has credited strong leadership and good team chemistry throughout the season.
Said Jennings, “I don’t think anyone expected us to do what we did this year, but as we went along we kept winning and I was like why not, why not keep going.”
It was the last time the Berries’ dynamic duo of Jennings and Penny will play together in a Berry uniform. Jennings is Iowa bound and Penny is getting mid-major looks from colleges in the region.
“It’s really sad because I’ve been playing with Whitney for a long time, not only high school but elementary and all that stuff,” Penny said. “So it’s going to be really hard not to have her on the court with me next year doing what she does best.
“We work really well together.”
Jennings will continue to cheer the program on. The Berries will return four starters next year.
“I think next year they still have the potential to do some good things,” Jennings said. “Everyone just needs to continue to work hard and improve because people are going to have to take on roles that they haven’t had to do.”
The Berries went 86-14 (.860) during Jennings’ four-year career. They won back-to-back sectional titles, the first regional title in school history, a Region Roundball Rumble title, a Twin Lakes Holiday Tournament title and have went perfect in North Central Conference play the last three years.