Defense wins ball games – an adage that was proven true in the girls’ basketball sectional at Southport High School.
Franklin Central’s young Flashes used defense to hold Perry Meridian to 29 points and Decatur Central to 36 points and advance to the championship game Saturday of the IHSAA Sectional 11 in the historic Southport Fieldhouse.
Then they faced a rugged and physical Ben Davis fullcourt press and halfcourt trapping defense that limited the Flashes to only 32 points. The Giants, coached by former Roncalli coach Stan Benge had length, reach, quickness, and physicality.
Still the Flashes came within six points with two minutes left before the Giants closed out with a 6-0 run to ruin any FC upset hopes, 44-32. FC finished with an 8-17 record after winning only five games in each of the past two seasons. They sought their 14th sectional title.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” FC veteran coach Vince Cerbone said afterward. “We battled all week and again tonight.”
Cerbone continued, “We gave it our best shot and got beat by a better team. We couldn’t match up against their size on the inside. We battled them, but in the end, size won out.”
He was referring to the Giants quartet of 6-3 Cristen Carter, who led all scorers with 17 points and 16 rebounds, 6-0 classmate Taylor Guess, and 5-10 guards Keleah Toomer and Kristen Clark.
Sophomore guard 5-10 Lily Graves was among the Flashes tallest players with 5-9 seniors Adalyn Barlow and Abby Steinhofer, 5-10 junior Carys Wilson and 5-7 senior Mattie Finney who fought the Giants in the backcourt and in the lane. Junior defensive ace Kaylee Rohrman and sophomore Emma McVey also tried their best to upend the taller Giants.
The Flashes led only once, 8-7 before the Giants (17-9) closed the first quarter with a 9-0 run. Determined FC cut the deficit to 17-14 on Wilson’s successive drives to the basket.
FC trailed by 16 points (35-19) in the third quarter but went to a zone defense that hampered the Giants. Graves hit her only 3-point shot in the second half with 92 seconds left and wound up with 11 points.
BD’s relentless defense resulted in 24 Flashes turnovers. The Giants outrebounded the Flashes, 35-20 and committed 17 miscues.
Cerbone praised the Flashes’ four seniors and the improvement made late season. The Flashes lost seven mid-season games in a row but recovered to capture five wins in seven games before running into Ben Davis.
“We improved so much in the last month, playing with more confidence, more physicality, and moving the basketball better,” Cerbone said. “We finally began to click. That was an intense physical team (Ben Davis) to put up with all game. We had a moment or two of frustration, but I thought we maintained our mental toughness.”
Looking ahead, the Flashes expect to come back next season with 10 returnees and a program that finally is growing in numbers.
Friday night, the Flashes relied on their stingy defense to upend Decatur Central. Graves led with 13 points and Wilson with 10 points. FC survived a sluggish fourth quarter, hitting only seven of 13 free throws.
The biggest defensive moment came when Finney alertly stole a Hawks’ crosscourt pass with the Flashes leading 43-36 with 37 seconds left.
Finney explained, “We emphasize defense because, a lot of times, defense wins game. Our coaches were able to calm us down during time outs and urged us to keep our composure.”
Defensively, FC held DC’s 1-2 scoring punch of 5-8 Kamrah Banks and 5-9 Soriah Gouard to a combined 21 points after they scored 34 points in defeating Roncalli earlier at Southport. The young Hawks finished 14-9 under first-year coach Nic Carothers.
Against Perry Meridian (5-17), FC was led by Graves with 14 points and Wilson with 10. PM senior Maya Mundy led all scorers with 18 points.