BENNETT'S MINUTES: In girls’ hoops, you just never know

Saturday, February 4, 2017
Miranda Bieghler splits the Cascade defense to shoot a layup on Friday night.
Banner Graphic/Joey Bennett

CLAYTON — When Cloverdale fell behind 14-4 to Monrovia on Friday night in the Class 2A girls’ basketball sectional at Cascade, it appeared tonight’s championship game could be devoid of Putnam County teams.

South Putnam was paired against No. 7-ranked Cascade in the other semifinal, and the Eagles had already lost to the Western Indiana Conference champions by 22 points earlier this season.

Like a veteran coach told me years ago, there’s only one thing you know for sure about girls’ basketball — you just never know.

Because of that fact, Cloverdale will meet South Putnam tonight for the sectional title. If there were NCAA tournament-type bracket contests for this particular event, they would all be busted.

The Sagarin computer ratings gave Cascade a 90-percent chance to win. But not 100......

All of the Eagles were understandably elated with their victory in what has not been an easy season.

They started off 7-1, then couldn’t put together even a two-game winning streak after that until this week in the sectional. An injury to key forward Maddie McHugh resulted in freshman Lexi Vanihel moving up a notch on the ladder. Ally Nichols went down with an injury in the first half on Friday night, and sophomore Whitney Boswell stepped in and played key minutes.

Aubrey Barker hadn’t shown flashes of greatness particularly often this season after transferring from Greencastle, but she was great in this game.

Yet the two Eagles who were perhaps most happy were juniors Miranda Bieghler and Lillie Stein, both of whom attended school at Cascade through middle school but enrolled at South Putnam as freshmen.

The Cascade cheer block made frequent references to that fact during the course of the game, but the Eagle standouts didn’t care. They were too focused on winning.

“It’s awesome,” Stein said. “It’s amazing. We knew we could do this, and we knew they were beatable. We have worked hard in practice and we were ready.”

Bieghler agreed.

“It just means a lot to us for all the hard work we have done,” she said. “We all believed we had that chance, even though we were the underdogs. We put everything out on the court.”

Bieghler, who has remained friends with some of her former Cascade teammates, admitted hearing some of the comments from the Cascade section.

“I heard what they were saying, and it motivated me a little bit,” she said. “Made me want to finish things out. I don’t have any hard feelings toward any of them. “

The atmosphere was electric, and while South Putnam’s cheer block was a little smaller than Cascade’s the Eagle faithful cheered loudly and often as their team got closer to victory.

The Eagle section, containing several familiar athletes from other sports, even got some help from several Monrovia students — including star Bulldog point guard Luke Smith.

Whether the Monrovia guys wanted South Putnam to win or Cascade to lose was unknown, but the second option listed seems the most likely.

So, tonight we get Cloverdale vs. South Putnam — round four.

The steady improvement of the Clovers can be found in the progression of their results in the three games.

On Nov. 18, the Eagles won a 54-33 rout over the Clovers in the Putnam County tournament.

On Dec. 27, in the championship game of the Monrovia Holiday Tournament, Cloverdale turned the tables and pulled out a 38-35 win.

On Jan. 26 in the regular-season finale, the Clovers recorded a 73-55 win.

None of that matters tonight, however.

While it might be understandable for Cloverdale to be happy to not have to play the state-ranked Cadets on their home floor, the Eagles who have taken the court this week have also proven to be a serious threat to win the sectional title.

Cloverdale may feel the pressure of battling for a sectional title for the first time, while South Putnam coach Brian Gardner has to keep his team focused on tonight’s game and not Friday’s — despite its huge significance.

Bieghler doesn’t think her team will suffer from a celebration after-effect and is looking forward to tonight’s game.

“We want to keep our momentum going and come out and win,” she said.

Stein agrees.

“We’ll be fine,” she said.

South Putnam will be looking for its first sectional title since 2004-05, when an Eagle team coached by Debbie Steffy won its first 24 games of the season before losing to Charlestown in the regional championship game.

Tonight’s winner probably has no idea that a likely matchup with 23-1 and top-ranked Triton Central awaits at noon on Saturday in the Speedway Regional.

And, tonight’s winner really doesn’t care at this point.

Gardner joked a few weeks ago that if his Eagles were to meet Cloverdale for a fourth time later in the season that he and Matthew Langdon should just coach each other’s team since they know each other so well.

It could happen; you just never know.

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