Cougar breakthrough

Central Noble juniors Meleah Leatherman, second from left, and Sydney Freeman hold the team’s state championship trophy high on a stage at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon after the Cougars defeated Winchester 46-42 in the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A girls basketball state championship game. Cougar senior Calista Rice holds a basketball with excitement as teammates Samantha Brumbaugh (35) and Bridgette Gray, far right, are all smiles.

Winchester’s Becca Chamberlin (3) tries to go up for a shot against Central Noble’s Meleah Leatherman (20) as Cougar Calista Rice (15) tries to help defensively during the Class 2A state championship girls basketball game Saturday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Photo by Steve Garbacz

The Central Noble girls basketball team and school officials pose on a stage on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse after the Cougars defeated Winchester 46-42 in the Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A state championship girls basketball game Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis. Photo by Brice Vance

By Brice Vance

INDIANAPOLIS — Once they had the chance to break through, they did.

The Central Noble girls basketball team broke through a midseason struggle, through semistate to the state finals and through the Winchester defense en route to its first-ever state championship in school history.

The Cougars defeated Winchester 46-42 to win the girls basketball IHSAA Class 2A State Championship on Saturday, and it was perseverance through adversity during a game where neither team led by more than eight points.

“Well, the thing that we talked to the girls with before the game was these girls have put in a lot of hours, and a lot of days, and a lot of weeks, and a lot of months and a lot of years to get to this stage,” Central Noble head coach Josh Treesh said. “And so I’m happy for them, because it takes a lot of sacrifices along the way more so than some of the other sports.

“I’m just proud of them. We battled through ups and downs through our season. We stuck together. We believed that we had the pieces to get here, and we just put ourselves in a good position through the postseason.”

Sydney Freeman led Central Noble (23-5) with 14 points, seven rebounds, six steals and four assists. Meleah Leatherman finished with a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman Lydia Andrews scored nine points off the bench.

The size of Winchester (26-3) was a big concern for Central Noble coming into Saturday’s matchup. The Golden Falcons played three girls six-foot tall or higher during the game.

Central Noble outscored Winchester 20-16 in the paint and kept the rebound margin close throughout the game. The Falcons outrebounded the Cougars 34-33 when it was all said and done.

“I think what happened was we got caught up where there was a lot of stoppage in play. Part of that was our fault,” Treesh said.” Once we were able to force them into a little bit lower percentage shots from the outside, it helped us rebound a little bit better.

“They’re huge. They a lot bigger in person than they are on film. And it allowed us, what we thought was going to be the key to the game, it allowed us to get out in transition. And I thought Sydney did a good job of pushing it there during that third quarter.

In the third quarter, Central Noble took the lead at 30-28, which was its first lead since the first quarter, after a steal and layup by Freeman. The Cougars finished with 12 points off turnovers on Saturday, compared to six by the Falcons.

In the final quarter, the Falcons took an early lead but the Cougars went on an 8-0 run to take the lead and keep it for good.

“I think we kind of felt a lot of pressure. We had some ups and downs during the season where that pressure finally hit us, and we just had to remember that just to play how we normally play,” Leatherman said. “Like we don’t have to listen to all of the outsiders and what they tell us to do because we’re the ones on the court, not them.”

Central Noble’s defense is what got it here and it was the defense that stepped up in the second half. The Cougars outscored Winchester 27-17 in the second half.

The Cougars were 16-of-42 (38 percent) from the floor and 3-for-10 (30 percent) from three, and Winchester was 14-for-49 (29 percent) overall and 5-of-15 (33 percent) from distance. At the free-throw line Central Noble 11-of-14 (79 percent) and Winchester was 9-for-16 (56 percent).

The win on Saturday also gave Treesh his 100th career win, even he if didn’t know it.

“It is my 100th win?” Treesh asked during the postgame press conference. “I’ll be honest with you I don’t really look at that stuff. But sure, I guess if it’s going to be a state championship then I’m going to let it. It absolutely feels outstanding. I’m just excited for these guys, who we expect so much out of them and finally to get to this point. It’s paid off.”

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