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By Al Stilley
“We made it! We made it!”
Franklin Central senior forward Rachel Loobie repeated those words several times Saturday night while clutching the Flashes’ first IHSAA girls basketball sectional championship trophy since 2014.
Loobie’s 21 points and 14 rebounds along with a complete 32 minutes of intense defense and patient offense by the Flashes paid off in a 36-32 triumph against sectional host 4A No. 11 Center Grove.
Meanwhile at nearby Greenwood Christian Academy (GCA), the host Cougars claimed their second consecutive sectional trophy by dominating Lutheran, 82-44 in another all-Southside battle.
Franklin Central (15-11) faces East Central (22-5) Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Columbus North Regional. The winner faces the No. 15 Bedford North Lawrence (19-5)-Evansville North (20-5) winner. In 1A, No. 8 GCA meets No. 7 Jac-Cen-Del (21-4) at noon in the Southwestern (Shelby County) Regional with the winner colliding with the North Central (18-7)-Bethesda Christian (18-6) winner. Championship games start at 7:30 p.m.
At Center Grove, Franklin Central’s defense frustrated the usually unflappable Trojans.
“We were definitely out of synch,” Center Grove coach Kevin Stuckmeyer said. “Give them (FCHS) credit, they got us out of our comfort zone. They guarded our cutters and we missed some open looks early. No doubt, Franklin Central was the better team tonight.”
The Flashes were in control most of the game, although statistically it was an even match except for a 23-16 rebounding edge and five more free throws. FC led twice by eight points in the second half, but the Trojans closed 31-30 with 38 seconds to go as Alexis Mobley closed with four points and Loobie hit a free throw. Mobley, Olivia Faust and Weaver combined for 15 points against the Trojans.
Loobie’s three-game sectional totals were 68 points, 44 rebounds, 10 assists and seven steals.
“The fact that people thought we couldn’t (win) just made us want it even more,” said Loobie who will play collegiately at Central Michigan University. “There was no doubt in our minds that we were capable of winning the game. We wanted to keep pressing hard on defense and not let up – that’s what we did.”
FC’s defense prevented the Trojans from a successful comeback.
“This was by far the best defense we’ve played in two years,” FC coach Vince Cerbone said, “We gave the girls a simple plan and they executed it perfectly. We’ve come from a two-win season when Loobie had to do everything last year to 15 wins and hopefully more with this group. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Center Grove finishes 20-6. The Trojans graduate Alainna Frankel, Ashley Eck and Claire and Emily Rake but return leading scorer 5-10 Mary Wilson.
At Greenwood Christian, the heavily favored Cougars cruised through its sectional by outscoring three opponents, 236-106. GCA trailed only once against Lutheran 2-1 early Saturday before pulling away for a first-quarter lead, 29-6.
Junior Izzy Reed led with 24 points and grabbed her career 1,000th rebound late in the game. Lone senior Alexis Mead scored 12 points in her final game in the GCA gymnasium. Savvanah Frye added 18 points and Ellie Bigelow scored 12 points.
Frye remarked, “This is a stepping stone.”
The Cougars are hungry and want to go deeper into the tourney than last year when they fell to University in the Southwestern Regional title game.
“We’re not done,” Reed said. “We’re playing together and playing hard.”
In his eighth season at the Cougars helm, coach Alan Weems praised the team for maintaining its focus throughout the finale. GCA has won 11 straight games. They have outscored opponents 66.4 points to 43.9.
Southside teams and their final won-lost record: Beech Grove (7-15); Greenwood (5-18); Lutheran (6-19); Manual 6-15; Perry Meridian (7-16); Roncalli (17-7); Southport (12-12).
(Note: Online editor Nathan Pace contributed to this article.)
(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTO BY AL STILLEY) Within moments of being presented their regional championship trophy at Center Grove, Franklin Central’s girls team celebrates quickly. Team members are, from left, front row, Alexus Mobley, Ariel Norris, Rachel Loobie, Vannah Vaughan, Kayla Vinson, Shelby Hayes, Laura Fisher, back row, assistant coach Nikki Cerbone, Maddie Weaver, coach Vince Cerbone, Olivia Faust, Mya Perry, Ella Brewer, Rayah Kincer, Adalyn Barlow, Mattie Finney and assistant coaches Evan Arnold and Amber Hubbard.
(SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTO BY NATHAN PACE) Greenwood Christian Academy grabbed its second consecutive girls sectional championship Saturday on its homecourt. Team members are, not in order, Lauren Peterson, Adrienne Doria, Kirsten Carlson, Savvanah Frye, Alexis Mead, Izzy Reed, Dory O’Dell, Ellie Bigelow, Chloe Grider and Addy Jolly. The Cougars have won a school-record 21 games this season.