by Beau Wicker
For the third time in 11 days, Logansport’s girls basketball team played a No. 1-ranked team.
And as they did against Class 4A No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern, the Berries won by double digits against Class 3A No. 1 Benton Central.
The Berries led from start to finish and recorded an impressive 56-40 win at Benton Central Tuesday night.
“We have beat two No. 1 teams in the state. That’s something for our girls to really be proud of and the community to be proud of and the school to be proud of,” Logan coach Jerry Hoover said. “It’s a good accomplishment. So I’m really happy with them. This is the best they’ve played in about five games. Hopefully we continue to play well Friday night, because the big game for us is Marion on Friday night. No doubt about it.”
The Class 4A No. 5 Berries improved to 15-1 and are off to their best start since they opened 21-1 three years ago.
The Berries came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. They took a 19-9 lead after one quarter when Whitney Jennings banked in a 3. A Rachel Jennings’ 3-point splash made it 24-11 less than 10 minutes in. Logan took a 32-25 into halftime.
“The past few games we haven’t been coming out and playing very strong, so I told the team in the locker room that if we dug ourselves in an early hole, we would not be able to get ourselves out of it against a good team like this,” Whitney Jennings said. “So we knew we had to come out strong and we needed to get on top of them early instead of them getting on top of us.”
Cassidy Deno went on a tear in the second quarter to keep the Bison (13-2) in the game, and she opened the second half with five straight points to bring them to within 32-30.
But the Berries had the answer. They closed the frame with a 13-2 run to take a 45-32 lead into the fourth. Whitney Jennings began and ended the run with stop-and-pop jumpers from 16 feet, Rachel Jennings hit a 3-point dagger in transition and Kiley Victor added two free throws.
The game would never get any closer the rest of the way, and Logan led by as much as 18 with under a minute to go.
Whitney Jennings led the Berries with 21 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. Hoover was particularly impressed with how she was able to close out the game running the four corners offense to help the Berries pull away.
“Hey, the little girl, Whitney, is starting to figure out really what it’s all about when you’ve got a lead. Who in the state is going to guard her if we’ve got the lead and we’re spreading the floor?” he said. “They’re going to have to send two, and when they send two if we can get some people looking around, there’s going to be some lay-ins. And we had some lay-ins, and we missed some lay-ins, too.”
Nakeya Penny added 12 points and a game-high seven rebounds. Logan won the rebounding battle against a bigger opponent, 25-21.
Rachel Jennings had eight points and five boards. She was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. Victor scored eight points as well. Madyson Price had seven points on 3 of 3 shooting, including an early 3-pointer.
Another big story of the game was the Berries’ defense on Benton Central senior guard Caitlyn Tolen, who entered the contest averaging more than 25 points per game. She has a recruiting trip planned with her family to visit Texas Tech University today, but on Tuesday she was hounded by the Berries the entire game, led by Victor spearheading combination defenses designed to slow her down. Tolen finished with just six points on 2 of 9 shooting.
“The plan was to just mix it up a lot to confuse them,” Victor said. “I think we did pretty well on her.”
Deno led the Bison with 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting.
“Caitlyn Tolen is a great player, and the Deno girl is a great shooter,” Whitney Jennings said. “Kiley played great defense. I praise her defense. She played very well.”
Said Hoover: “We only had one night to get ready for them, and we really didn’t have a good practice [Monday]. So what we did is, we talked it through, and then they carried it out very, very well. We didn’t really get to put it on the floor and go through situations and so forth. So they did a very, very good job. Every player really played well.”
A year ago Logan was handed a defeat by the Bison by nearly an identical score, 57-41, in the Berry Bowl.
“We did not play very well at all against them last year at home,” Whitney Jennings said. “We wanted to get this win.”
Logan’s only loss this season was to another No. 1-ranked team, Class 2A Evansville Mater Dei, 83-54. Entering Tuesday’s game the Logan coaches said Benton Central compared favorably to Mater Dei.
“It’s hard to look back at the Evansville game and talk about it because we just did not play to our capability at all,” Whitney Jennings said. “We didn’t play half as good as what we’re capable of. It’s a little frustrating to look back on that game and see that we got beat by 30 points. They are a similar team, but we really wanted this one.”
The Berries travel to Marion on Friday.