At the start of the season Whitney Jennings wasn’t sure about the prospects of her Logansport girls basketball team repeating as a sectional champion.
After all, the Berries graduated a talented senior class full of athletes who are now playing sports in college. Plus, the opposing sectional teams all had talented, experienced teams returning.
But Jennings is the probable Miss Basketball, and she has helped bring along her teammates’ improvement at a rapid pace.
And on Saturday night in the sectional championship game, Jennings and the Berries were simply too much for the Marion Giants. In a game that was not as close as the final score would indicate, the Berries defeated the Giants 66-52 to repeat as Class 4A, Sectional 7 champions.
“I’m really excited,” Jennings said. “After what we did last year and what we had coming back, I knew it was going to be tough to do. But we had a lot of people that believed in us and supported us this year, and we got it done.
“Starting the year, me and Nakeya [Penny] were the only ones who had that varsity experience. As the year went on we went through our ups and downs, but everyone grew and we grew as a team and everyone improved, and we’re here and we won it.”
The No. 11-ranked Berries (22-2) face Fort Wayne Carroll (10-12) at noon Saturday at the Kokomo Regional. No. 4 Homestead (22-1) plays No. 14 Fishers (19-4) in the earlier semifinal. The final is set for 8 p.m.
Jennings delivered a clinic on how to break down a defense against Marion (11-11), repeatedly driving through or passing through the multiple defenses the Giants threw at her.
She had 20 points by halftime to get the Berries out to a 36-20 lead at the break. She finished with 28 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals.
Plus, when the Iowa recruit gets in the open court she’s nearly unstoppable.
“The first quarter they stayed with us but I knew if I could get it out in transition before they set up their defense we were going to have much better luck, and that’s what I tried to do in the second quarter to get a little separation from them,” she said.
Said Logansport coach Jerry Hoover: “Whitney took it to them. Once she started going to the basket and making them foul her and hit her, we got several of them in foul trouble and the tempo of the game was to our liking. That’s just the way we’ve got to play that team in my judgement.”
Jennings’ main running mate, Penny, added 21 points, seven rebounds and a block in the win. The 5-10 junior hit shots that were so key in the sectional win over McCutcheon earlier in the week and she was sharp again on Saturday night.
“It feels good to win a second time in a row,” Penny said. “I didn’t think we would win it this year due to the players that we lost, but some of our girls have really stepped up. We really worked as a team tonight and I think we came out strong and played our best.
“We have improved. I’ve improved myself. Hoover always tells me every day that my shot’s getting better, I’m driving to the bucket better. Kennedy Curl has been working hard and getting better, Maddie [Dalton], her 3s are starting to go in and falling for us and Syd [Bullard], she rebounds like no other so we’re really getting better at that.”
Bullard, a volleyball standout that also keyed the McCutcheon victory, added 10 points and five boards against Marion.
The Berries led by as much as 64-40 after two Penny free throws with 4:46 left in the game.
Vironnica Drake hit three of her four 3-pointers in the final 4:30 and finished with 16 points to lead the Giants. Dejah Cyrus had 14 points and 12 boards, Autumn Weaver scored eight points and Julia Cardwell added six points and 10 rebounds.
“The end of the game was basically we ran four corners and waited till the clock ran out,” Hoover said.
Hoover won his sixth sectional title overall and third at Logansport. The program has won 11 sectional titles overall, three since class sports were enacted.
“This team has done something that no other Logansport team has done, they won the Cass County Tournament, they won the Twin Lakes Tournament, they won the North Central Conference undefeated and they won the sectional,” Hoover said. “That’s a pretty lofty achievement when you get right down to it.”
Jennings had a virtuoso performance in her final game in the Berry Bowl. The Berries are 25-0 in the Berry Bowl over the last two seasons and 44-3 in the last four years.
There was once again a big crowd on hand Saturday night to support the team.
Hoover said most opposing teams are not used to playing in front of the large crowds that the Berries have grown accustomed to, giving his team an advantage.
“The crowd helped us all three nights,” he said.