BY DEAN HOCKNEY
MONTICELLO, Ind. – For eight minutes, the typically-dominant Northwestern Lady Tigers looked mortal. In fact, for the first time in recent memory, they were losing a basketball game. But in an instant, everything changed, and Northwestern found itself in the IHSAA Class 3A Final Four after capturing its first ever regional championship with a 61-23 win over Gary West.
“I am so proud of these girls; this is awesome to be a part of,” said Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden. “This has been a goal since they were young. In the summers when they work out on their own, this is why they do it.”
“This is what we wanted to do,” said sophomore center Kendall Bostic. “We knew they would be tough. I think we were a little tired, but we regrouped and finished.”
The win was not easy – at least for the first quarter. The Lady Tigers hit the floor ice cold as they missed shots, made poor passes and trailed 10-6 after one quarter of the Twin Lakes Regional championship game. In the first stanza, Northwestern hit just 3 of 14 shots and made five turnovers. Layden, a three-time state champion at Tri-Central, saw the problem and addressed it at the first break.
“That was an ugly start,” she admitted. “The problem was we were taking the first open shot we had, and that is not us. With a team that was so athletic as them, we were one-and-done if we missed. In our defense, we usually knock down those shots, but we got off to a slow start – but they got themselves out of it.”
The second quarter seemed to be a new start for the No. 1 team in Class 3A. For the next 16 minutes of action, Northwestern outscored a shell-shocked Gary West 43-11. The rally started when Taylor Boruff got inside to trim the lead to 11-8. Ninety seconds later, she again scored to cut the West lead to 13-12.
Madison Layden stole a pass and was fouled, hitting both free throws to give the Tigers a 14-13 lead – a lead they would not relinquish. Layden stole another pass and went the length of the court for a bucket and Boruff got inside for another two points. By the time Boruff and Katie Neher drained 3-point shots to close the second quarter, the Redskins did not know what hit them as Northwestern took a 29-17 lead into the locker room.
“We have a trust in each other,” said Bostic of the way the team plays together. “We know what each other is going to do with the ball, and that is important.”
Once Northwestern found its characteristic groove, they clicked on all cylinders. And that included the defense which forced Gary West into eight second quarter and nine third quarter turnovers. The pressure was so great that the Lady Tigers held the Redskins to six second half points and only two in the final 10 minutes.
“In the first half, we extended our defense to put pressure on them,” said Layden. “But they like to penetrate, and they scored. As we started to get the lead, we could pack it in since we knew they were poor outside shooters. Their game is to penetrate, and we could stop that.”
Layden led the charge for Northwestern with 18 points, six assists and four steals. Boruff scored 16 points, including nine as she led the second quarter comeback. Bostic dominated the middle with 14 points and six rebounds despite getting into first-half foul trouble. Klair Merrell had six rebounds and Sarah Vas added four points and four assists.
“It is such a great feeling, but it is just one-step in the journey we want to take,” said Bostic, whose Tigers fell in the regional finals a year ago and finished with a 22-4 record. “We are taking this game-by-game and this is a huge step for us. After we fell last year, this is one-more step to where we want to be.”
In the regional semifinal game, Northwestern defeated No. 14 Mishawaka Marian 69-35. Bostic had 16 first half points and scored 24 for the contest. Layden – who now owns the single-season school record with 521 points – scored 14 while Neher added 12 and Boruff 10.
“This is a low-key group and they are very business-like,” added Coach Layden. “It is great when they are happy and they will celebrate this win right here; but they want to get the job done.”
The Lady Tigers job continues this Saturday as No. 1 Northwestern (27-1) will play in the Logansport Semi-State where they will face No. 3 Fairfield (24-2) in the 7 p.m. game at the famed Berry Bowl. Tickets for the game are on sale in the Northwestern athletic office from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until the Tigers ticket allotment runs out; the cost is $8.
In the South Final Four, No. 2 Greensburg (22-3) will battle No. 7 Danville (25-4) in the 3 p.m. game of the Jeffersonville Semi-State. The winners will meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in the Class 3A state finals.
Class 1A Tipton Regional: The Tri-Central Lady Trojans, under the leadership of first-year head coach Jason Bales, shocked the field by winning its second regional title in three seasons. In the semifinal contest, Tri-Central upset No. 8 Tri 43-41. In the finals, the Lady Trojans punched its ticket to the next round by knocking off Rockville 39-35 after draining 13 of 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
Tri-Central (16-10) advances to the Class 1A Final Four and will play No. 1 Marquette Catholic (25-2) in the 2 p.m. game of the Valparaiso Semi-State. In the Jasper Semi-State, No. 2 Vincennes Rivet (25-2) battles No. 3 Indianapolis Tindley (25-3) at 4 p.m.