(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN) [Order this photo]
With the prospect of the sectional tournament hanging over the its head, the South Putnam girls' basketball came out slow against visiting North Putnam.
The Cougars played loose and took a lead at the half, but the Eagles made a run midway through the third quarter to seize the game and won 40-34.
Senior Mattie Varvel scored eight of her game-high 12 points in the third quarter to spark the SPHS rally.
"Her best shot is a pull-up jumper and she was able to get that," Eagles coach Lindsey Blackman said. "That helped us pull away in the third quarter."
Despite being without senior starting center Sam Lucas, one of the teams best players, North Putnam played one of its most complete games of the year. The younger group played with experience, making sound defense and making heady decisions with the ball.
"I told them after the game, 'I know that shows up as a loss, but that's the most complete game we've played this year,'" NPHS coach Curtis Lawrence said. "I can't complain with the way we played tonight."
Lucas missed the game with an illness but is expected to play in the sectional contest, which Lawrence said should give them an added boost.
The Cougars had a balanced scoring attack led by sophomore Morgan Smith, who had nine points on four-of-eight shooting.
Junior point guard Bethany Wiatt had six points and also grabbed four offensive rebounds for NPHS.
The Eagles got into early foul trouble and failed to get into a rhythm in the first half. To overcome that, the group began getting into the paint and forcing the Cougars to foul.
SPHS got to the line 13 times in the second quarter, but made just four of them.
The Eagles' ability to draw fouls changed in the second half, but they didn't need them.
The teams traded baskets for the first four minutes after the break, then Varvel and Cash heated up for an 11-1 run.
Cash and junior Aubrey Nichols each nailed a three to start the fourth quarter, extending the Eagles lead to 35-27 with five minutes to play.
Blackman said she is still searching for the perfect lineup recipe.
"If I knew the answer to that, we would play like that all the time," she said. "If it would be consistently a five, I would say, 'OK, that's the five that plays the best.'
"The good thing is different people are stepping up. It helped us tonight putting Brooke (Cundiff) at the point guard spot in the second half, because that frees up Mattie to create on the outside."
The Cougars closed the game on a 7-2 run of their own, but by then it was too late.
Because NPHS had committed so few fouls early in the half, they were unable to extend the game late by sending the Eagles to the line.
"We had one stretch in the third quarter where we lost Cash a couple times and she burned a couple threes on us, but that's really the only bad stretch we had," Lawrence said. "Usually, when we get down 10 or 12 points, we're done. And they fought back tonight and made it a six-point ballgame."
It was the final regular season game for both teams.
The Eagles (7-13, 2-3) will begin tournament play on Tuesday at 6 p.m. against sectional host Speedway.
The Cougars (4-16, 0-5) play Wednesday against Crawfordsville. That game is at Lebanon at 6 p.m.
At South Putnam
North Putnam 9 11 5 9 -- 34
South Putnam 12 6 11 11 -- 40
North Putnam: Smith 4-8 0-2 9, Asbell 2-6 4-6 8, Wiatt 2-4 2-4 6, Aynes 2-5 0-1 4, Nauert 1-6 1-1 3, Kientz 1-5 0-1 2, Heron 0-0 2-2 2, Land 0-0 0-0 0, Pitcock 0-0 0-0 0, Clodfelter 0-0 0-0 0.
South Putnam: Varvel 6-12 0-0 12, Masters 3-5 3-7 9, Cash 2-9 0-0 6, Birt 2-4 0-2 4, Nichols 1-2 0-0 3, York 0-2 2-3 2, Barnes 0-1 1-2 1, Whitaker 0-3 1-3 1, Cundiff 0-1 0-1 0, Hewitt 0-0 0-0 0, Dobson 0-0 0-0 0.
This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the events