Over the past few weeks, North Vermillion girls’ basketball coach Mark Switzer had seen his team alternate between playing good games and not so good games.
Going up against Clinton Central in the championship match of the 1A Sectional 54 tournament, Switzer said he mentioned that to his team.
“I reminded them that we didn’t play well last night against Covington,” he said, “so I was expecting better from them tonight.”
He got his wish in the form of a second consecutive come-from-behind victory in defeating the Bulldogs by a 49-43 score.
In almost every championship game, the first quarter is one where both teams test the waters, trying to see what things work and what do not.
The first period saw North Vermillion take at 13-10 lead on Clinton Central, but the Bulldogs came right back at the start of the second period with two baskets to pull within one at 15-14 after a couple of Falcon miscues.
Turnover dominated the entire game, making for a raggedly played contest, where both teams made errors – many unforced – against their opponent’s defense.
Hannah Ellis, one of two post players for the Falcons, blamed it on indecision, at least for her team.
“I think their trapping defense made us hesitate,” she explained. “We knew what we were supposed to do, but they were very quick and make it hard to pass, so we hesitated and that led to them getting in the passing lane.”
Her team got a basket by Ava Martin, the other Falcon post player, but then Clinton Central ran off ten straight points including a three-pointer for a 24-17 lead with about two minutes left in the half.
In that span, the only scoring – thanks to turnovers and missed shots – was a Martin lay-up off a pass from Ellis to close the period with the Falcons trailing 24-19.
It got grimmer for North Vermillion as the third period started.
Brianna West fed Martin under the basket for a lay-up, but then the Bulldogs hit a three-pointer – a pattern that would persist most of the night with the Falcons closing the gap only to see their opponent make a big shot.
Down six with three minutes gone in the period, North Vermillion used the next two minutes to cut their deficit to one point, 28-27, only to see Clinton Central hit a three-pointer again.
Ellis made a basket and Martin a free throw to get back to one down, but the Bulldogs again hit from beyond the arc for a 34-30 score with 90 seconds left in the third quarter.
Dowers then made two free throws that were offset by a Clinton Central basket to make the score 36-32 going into the fourth quarter.
North Vermillion tied the score in the opening two minutes as once again their defense kept their opponent at bay while getting a trey from Dowers and a free throw from Martin for a 36-all score.
Three minutes into the period, the teams exchanged free throws, each making only one of two, before Crowder broke free on a fast break for a 39-37 lead for the Falcons.
Clinton Central regained the lead in the next 90 seconds on a free throw and a basket for a 40-39 scores, but Martin came right back with a lay-up to put the Falcons up 41-40.
West then fed Crowder for a lay-up with two minutes to go in the game, but this time, instead of their usual three-pointer, the only things the Bulldogs could do was hit a single free throw for a 43-42 score with 1:16 left.
Crowder then made two free throws, a teammate missed a pair and then Clinton Central netted two from the stripe for a 45-43 score with 25 seconds left.
The Bulldogs came out in an aggressive defense, but Martin got the ball in an open space on the floor for a short jumper that she converted to make it 47-43.
Ellis would close out the game with two free throws for a final score of 49-43 that sent the Falcons to their second consecutive sectional title.
Martin, who was the leading scoring for North Vermillion for the second game in a row with 16 points, said, “It’s not usually me who is the high scorer, but I was able to get some putbacks and my teammates got me the ball under the basket. Usually, my job is to rebound.”
Her teammate in the post, Ellis, agreed that rebounding is their first priority, but that defense is important, too.
“Our defense got more aggressive in the second half and we got some rebounds that led to fast breaks,” she said. “This was a hard, physical game but we [got the win].”
Switzer had mixed opinions about the play of his team, saying they had played better than in the previous contest with Covington, but that the squad did not execute some of what he wanted.
“The girls were supposed to cut to the middle, but they quit doing it,” he said. “They kept passing the ball around the outside and eventually the defense figured that out and forced a turnover.”
He closed by looking ahead to the regional, saying, “We can do this. We’re still not playing where we should be, but we’re improving.”
North Vermillion (20-6) will take on the Blue River Valley Vikings (14-9) in the opening game of the Tri-Central regional against a foe who defeated them last season 57-42 in this same regional opener.