by Beau Wicker
The North Central Conference winning streak remains alive.
Whitney Jennings made sure of it.
Jennings and the Lady Berries recorded a 71-62 win at Muncie Central Friday night for their 20th NCC win in a row.
The Class 4A No. 11 Berries (19-2, 6-0 NCC) completed their third straight perfect season in league play in their final regular-season game of the year.
“We’re really excited to have gone undefeated in the North Central Conference for three years in a row,” Jennings said.
Playing at the historic Muncie Fieldhouse, it was vintage Jennings. The Miss Basketball candidate just missed another quadruple-double with 36 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and nine steals.
She was 12 of 21 from the field (57.1 percent), 2 of 4 from 3 and 10 of 13 from the foul line against a Bearcats squad that had lost just one other game all season with star sophomore Jayla Scaife in the lineup — at Greenfield-Central on Jan. 29.
The Berries had a very strong start to the game. They led 19-5 after Jennings made a jumper off a spin move just 4:40 into the contest.
“I wanted to get this one really bad,” Jennings said. “I just told everyone coming out that we needed to play with intensity the whole entire game and we never let up. They made a run on us the first half but we kept our composure and we were fine.”
The Bearcats (14-5, 3-3), more known for their volleyball than girls basketball, showed they will be a team to be reckoned with in coming years and this year as well.
“Scaife’s one of the best players in the state, definitely,” Jennings said. “They have a great team. We knew that coming in here. It was a fun battle all night.”
The Bearcats have the ability to score in bunches and they cut the Berries lead to 40-34 at halftime on Jessica Rowe’s running 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Logan coaches argued that Rowe did not get the shot off in time but to no avail.
Scaife’s three-point play at the end of the third quarter made it a 56-50 Logan lead entering the fourth.
The Bearcats got to within five points late when Jennings whipped around a pass to freshman Madison Dalton who knocked down a jumper to make it 66-59 with 1:50 remaining.
“She scared me. I thought she should have taken another dribble and made a layup and she shoots a 15-footer,” Jennings said with a laugh.
The Berries were able to hold on from there.
Nakeya Penny once again came up big with 23 points and six rebounds. She made an 18-foot jumper with 6:00 left in the game after Muncie had gotten to within three points.
Sydney Bullard had seven points and five rebounds in the win. Dalton finished with five points including a long 3-pointer to start the game.
The Berries became patient with the ball down the stretch and won the game at the foul line. They made 10 of 14 free throws in the final quarter and outscored the Bearcats 17-8 from the line for the game. They also forced 14 turnovers while committing just five.
“I was really pleased with the way Whit, Nakeya and Syd showed leadership out there taking care of the ball and doing the things we want them to do in order to get the win,” Logan coach Jerry Hoover said.
Scaife led the Bearcats with 21 points and eight rebounds. Rowe had 18 points and seven boards, and Savannah Jackson scored 17 points.
The Berries applied a box-and-one on Scaife and Hoover credited Kennedy Curl and Katrina Neuendorf for helping to hold her to 21 points, three under her average.
“That’s fine, because if she gets 36 we’re in trouble. She can get that on us if we don’t use some special defense,” he said. “Looking at the stats, they shot better than they’ve shot all year long. They’ve got senior night, it’s here at home, and they wanted to beat us. They played very, very well.”
“We’ve got to turn our attention to the tournament. We’ve got two days to get ready for McCutcheon. McCutcheon will be just like this, they’re going to hold the ball on us, shoot lights out and we’ll just see what happens.”
The Berries have closed the season strong, winning four games in a row on the road, all in the last week.
They’re returning home to face McCutcheon (11-10) at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Class 4A Logansport Sectional.
McCutcheon has also finished strong, recording wins over Kokomo and Benton Central in recent games with a narrow loss at No. 17 Westfield.
“Coach Knoy does a great job with them,” Jennings said. “I think he’s one of the best coaches in the state. Every single time I’ve played them in my high school career they’ve always thrown something completely different at us. Last year they stalled. The first game we played them this year they threw two people at me at halfcourt. So I never know what he’s going to do but we’ve got to be ready for everything.
“We want to repeat as sectional champs so we really need to get focused and get ready to go.”