By Ken Fillmore
WINAMAC — After repeating as regional champion in Class 2A Saturday, the Central Noble girls basketball team will be heading to Logansport this coming Saturday to take on Frankton (23-5) in the 2A North Semistate for a 4 p.m. tipoff.
The Northeast Corner Conference is the only conference in the state to have multiple regional champions in girls basketball this season. Both of the conference regional champs will play in Logansport as NECC regular season champion Fairfield (24-2) will take on top-ranked Northwestern (27-1) in the 3A North Semistate game at 7 p.m. following the CN-Frankton contest.
Coach Brodie Garber’s Falcons continued their tough, defensive-minded postseason trend to win the Columbia City Regional. They rallied from a 12-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to stun Concordia 43-41 in the semifinal, then put the clampse on Hamilton Heights to win the regional final 40-21.
Back in 2A, Frankton pulled off one of biggest surprises on a regional Saturday that had its fair share of upsets. Coach Stephan Hamaker’s Eagles upset 2A top-ranked Oak Hill 68-58 in the Greentown Eastern Regional final Saturday night. Frankton avenged a 67-39 road loss to its Central Indiana Conference rival on Dec. 16.
On Saturday, Frankton separated itself from Oak Hill (23-3) late in the third quarter and kept the Golden Eagles away by making 18-of-23 free throws in the fourth quarter. Senior Destyne Knight had 20 points and six rebounds for Frankton after going scoreless in the Eagles’ first meeting with Oak Hill. Senior Sydney Tucker led Frankton with 23 points and four steals.
The 5-foot-8 Tucker leads the Frankton Eagles with 19.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 2.1 assists per game. The 6-1 Knight has 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 1.9 assists and 1.1 blocked shots per game.
The Eagles enjoyed their third regional championship in program history and their first since 2000.
On the other side of the semistate matchup, CN (21-5) won its second regional title in program history. Those titles have come back-to-back. The Cougars acted like they have done it before in the final seconds and after the buzzer sounded in their 48-36 victory over Hammond Bishop Noll in the Winamac Regional.
Central Noble acted pretty businesslike after the game with not much of reaction. The most exciteable was probably junior center Meleah Leatherman.
“We’re a little bit more mature than we were last year,” Cougars coach Josh Treesh said. “I thought we looked like the team that has been here before.”
Defense was the story of the day for CN, and has been the calling card for the team all postseason. On Saturday, the Cougars held Bluffton to 36 percent shooting from the field (12-33) and forced 18 turnovers in their 47-35 semifinal win early Saturday, then held Noll (18-10) to 21 percent shooting (13-62) while outrebounding the Warriors 51-35 in the final.
Freshman standout Courtney Blakely had 30 points in Bishop Noll’s 65-54 upset of North Judson in the semifinals. Blakely was 4-of-24 from the field on her way to 12 points against the Cougars.
“We zoned them the whole way. It was a good call by the coaches,” Leatherman said. “We knew they were really fast, and we had to keep our eyes on 1 and 22 (freshman Rose Fuentes).”
The Cougars jumped out to a 14-2 lead. Leatherman had eight of her 15 points in the opening quarter as the Warriors only made 3-of-16 field-goal attempts.
Bishop Noll cut an 11-point halftime deficit down to four late in the third quarter before freshman Lydia Andrews hit a three-pointer from the corner in front of the Cougar bench in the final seconds of the stanza to give CN a 35-28 lead heading into the fourth.
“I knew time was running out and Sydney did not have an opening,” Andrews said. “I knew someone had to take it.”
Andrews had another big basket after missing two free throws early in the fourth quarter. Andrews picked up a long rebound after her second miss and went on to score on a driving layup to put Central Noble up 39-30 with 6 minutes, 12 seconds left. A couple more Cougar buckets pushed the lead up to 13 midway through the final stanza.
“We just pushed through it,” Leatherman said. “It was kinda shocking to punch them in the face like we did. Then we let up defensively, and got our butts chewed out for it.”
Leatherman had 11 points and 12 rebounds at the half and ended up with 15 points, 15 boards and four blocked shots. Freeman had 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Andrews had nine points and five rebounds, and freshman Bridgette Gray had six points and six rebounds.
Knight reunion in semifinal
The first semifinal at Winamac was a coaching matchup between East Noble alumni Treesh and Karl Grau from Bluffton. They both played for former Knight coach Marty Johnson.
Treesh played three years on the EN varsity from 1993-96 before graduating in 1996. Some of his teammates during his time in Kendallville included current East Noble athletic director Nick David, Trine University football coach Troy Abbs, University of Saint Francis men’s basketball coach Chad LaCross and Gabe Jones, the father of recent Knight student-athletes Chandler, Corie and Hayden Jones.
Grau graduated from East Noble in 1989 and had a couple varsity basketball seasons with the Knights.
Freeman approaching Magnuson
Freeman is 16 points away from matching the 1,220 points of Central Noble’s career leading scorer in girls basketball, 2006 graduate Carey Magnuson. Freeman has 1,198 points, including 455 points this season.
Leatherman has 367 points this season and 1,171 in her prep basketball career.
• Semistate tickets will start going on sale at Central Noble today. A ticket will cost $8.
• The Central Noble Athletic Booster Club is taking orders for regional basketball championship shirts. Call ABC Embroidery in Albion at 636-7311. Make checks out to the Central Noble Athletic Booster Club.
• The local girls’ semistate activity has forced the move of NECC boys basketball games. Central Noble and Lakeland moved their games up on Saturday to a 10 a.m. junior varsity start in LaGrange. Fremont’s boys will now host Fairfield on Monday, starting with the junior varsity game at 5 p.m.