BY DEAN HOCKNEY
LOGANSPORT, Ind. – For all of 60 seconds, the IHSAA Class 3A Logansport Semi-State championship game may have been in doubt – for the first time during tournament play, Northwestern center Kendall Bostic lost the opening tip. But then Klair Merrell hit a 3-pointer, Madison Layden stole a pass and scored and the rout was on as the Lady Tigers crushed Marion 59-31 to advance to its second straight state finals.
As for Bostic, it should be pointed out that the 6-foot-1 junior sensation lost the tip to the much taller 6-foot-6 RaShaya Kyle. The Northwestern standout then held Kyle to just 11 points and six rebounds as Bostic dominated the play in the paint. The strong defensive pressure by the Tigers was something Bostic was proud of after the game.
“RaShaya is a very talented ball player,” said Bostic. “She was our main focus; we haven’t played anyone that tall. We were able to pack it in and our communication was big tonight on defense.”
Marion entered the contest averaging more than 54 points per game but managed just three shots in the first quarter. By the end of the game, the Lady Giants were to 11 for 29 from the field (3 for 15 from beyond the arc), had committed 21 turnovers and were outrebounded 23-17.
“That was pure determination; they came out focused,” said Northwestern head coach Kathie Layden. “I had a feeling that Marion would be rattled because of the atmosphere, and we were able to score off of their turnovers.”
Meanwhile, the Layden and Bostic show was on full display as they combined for 13 for 23 shooting – Layden had 27 points, five steals and five assists while Bostic accounted for 12 points, six rebounds and two steals.
Northwestern jumped to the quick 5-0 lead and led 9-2 when Allison Miller got open for a bucket following a fourth Marion turnover. Merrell followed with her second triple of the quarter and by the end of the first stanza, the No. 1-ranked Lady Tigers led 14-5 – they scored 10 points off six Marion turnovers. Miller, a senior, was the fifth starter for the Tigers after junior forward Sarah Heaver injured her knee in the regional.
“We struggled a bit in the beginning of the game – they are big and strong. But Klair knocked down some big shots for us in the first quarter,” said Madison Layden. “And Allison played as well as she could – she grabbed some big offensive rebounds (three), stepped up and was ready to play.”
“Allison is the type of player who will do whatever is asked of her,” added Coach Layden. “I felt like today we put more on her shoulders – we needed her to go after rebounds and loose balls. And she did.”
The second quarter was much like the first – Katie Neher made it 16-5, Bostic was the recipient of sensational passing to score two and Layden knocked down two 3-pointers for a commanding 29-12 lead at the intermission in the Berry Bowl.
Layden’s fourth 3-pointer seconds into the second half put the lead to 20. The Lady Tigers put the game out of reach on a Bostic steal and pass to Layden for two followed by a fifth Layden triple – Northwestern led 39-14 and cruised the rest of the way.
“The way we passed tonight was great – getting inside and then right back out,” said Bostic, noting Northwestern held possession at one point for nearly three minutes with sharp passes and cuts. “If there is one person on me, I will take the shot; but if there are two, I will find the best shot on the floor.”
The defending 3A state champion Lady Tigers hit 20 of 42 shots, including 7 of 15 from 3-point range; they also canned 12 of 14 free throws and only turned the ball over seven times. In addition to Layden and Bostic, Merrell added 10 points, four assists and three steals, Neher had six points, and Miller four points.
Top-ranked Northwestern (26-3) will defend its state title against fellow Hoosier Conference member and seventh-ranked Benton Central (26-4). The two squads did not meet during the regular season as Benton Central lost to Lafayette Central Catholic and finished second in the West Division – meaning they played for third place and not against East Division champ Northwestern in the conference finals. Another interesting fact is Benton Central – representing the South bracket – is geographically North of Northwestern High School.
“Confidence helps me, definitely,” said Merrell. “Our confidence will be high going into next week. I am excited and confident.”
The Class 3A championship game is set to tip-off at 6 p.m. at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Northwestern athletic department will be selling tickets this week during normal business hours – a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales generated in the athletic office will stay at the school; tickets sold at the gate do not.