BY DEAN HOCKNEY
LOGANSPORT, Ind. – From the opening tip of the IHSAA Class 3A Logansport Semi-State, it was apparent that the best team on the floor was the team that had steamrolled its previous five tournament opponents. By the time the Berry Bowl horn sounded to end the game, the No. 1-ranked Northwestern Lady Tigers were celebrating another lopsided victory – this time a 70-43 win over No. 3 Fairfield.
And it was not even that close.
“It is just amazing,” said senior Morgan Mercer after the Lady Tigers claimed the programs first-ever berth in an IHSAA state finals. “I can’t think of a better way to go out; and thank God it is not over yet. This is awesome.”
Senior Sarah Vas, a defensive specialist who also handles the ball on offense, was all smiles after the game. She credits the fact the squad is more of a family than a team.
“I am ecstatic and I am so happy,” she said. “We work so hard day in and day out. I love playing with them. We love each other so much and that is what makes the difference. Other teams may be good, but they don’t have the chemistry that we have.”
Unlike the regional championship game last weekend that saw a sluggish Lady Tigers start, Northwestern started strong in its first-ever Final Four contest. Taylor Boruff started the scoring by getting loose inside the paint. Fairfield countered on the other end for a 2-2 game – and that is as close as it would be the rest of the way. Kendall Bostic scored and Madison Layden stole a pass and dropped in a bucket. Layden then grabbed a rebound and found Bostic open, and before the Lady Falcons knew what hit them, it was an 8-2 lead for Northwestern and 19-12 after eight minutes.
“This is incredible – what a fun atmosphere,” said head coach Kathie Layden, noting the entire south side of the gym was dressed in purple. “I told the girls before the game that this would be the most fun game they have played in. Now they have one more.”
Midway through the second stanza, the purple machine – which has now outscored its tournament opponents by an amazing combined margin of 444-165 – shifted into high gear. Boruff wowed the crowd by going behind her back on a fast-break and then zipping a pass to Bostic for two points. Boruff then hit a shot of her own and Bostic hit back-to-back shots on nice passes from Katie Neher and Layden to open a 31-16 lead. The 16-2 run led the team to a 39-20 halftime margin.
“I am honestly excited for these kids,” said Layden. “We have worked hard and we deserve to be here. Now, to be rewarded by going to the state finals is what they have worked for.”
Layden said a main component to the squads winning ways – they are 50-5 in the last two seasons – is that they have bought into her system. Layden is no stranger to championships – she led Tri-Central to three Class 1A state titles and is already a member of the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame.
“It is obvious when you watch us that all they care about is winning,” she said. “They have bought into our system – our defense, how they unselfishly pass the ball, just the way they play.”
Vas added, “Our main thing is winning, no matter what it takes.”
Madison Layden led the team with a 28-point performance that included nine fouls drawn, six rebounds, six assists and four steals – all team highs. During the game she passed the 900-point career mark and increased her school record single-season scoring record to 549.
Bostic hit her first six shots, finishing with 18 points on 9 for 11 shooting. She also grabbed five rebounds, had two assists, one block and one steal. Boruff scored 12 points and had two assists and two steals. Vas added six points on 3 for 4 shooting. Neher, Sarah Heaver and Stephanie Burns rounded out the scoring with two points each.
The Lady Tigers job continues this Saturday as top-ranked Northwestern (28-1) will play No. 2 Greensburg (23-3) in the IHSAA Class 3A state championship game at 6 p.m. in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tickets 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 $15 and includes the 4A contest which follows.
The other state championship games include: Class 1A, Vincennes Rivet (26-2) vs. Marquette Catholic (26-2); 2A, Winchester (26-2) vs. Central Noble (22-5); and 4A, Warren Central (19-7) vs. Zionsville (22-5).
Class 1A Valparaiso Semi-State: The Tri-Central Lady Trojans underdog run came to an end with a 58-18 loss to No. 1 Marquette Catholic in the Class 1A North Final Four game in Valparaiso.
Under first year coach Jason Bales, the Lady Trojans had upset No. 7 Northfield in the sectional and No. 8 Tri in the regional. Tri-Central ends the season 16-11.