by Beau Wicker
NEW CASTLE —
Indiana high school basketball fans knew they were in for quite a show at the 2012 girls Hall of Fame Classic at the New Castle Fieldhouse.
The four highly-ranked teams in the field, featuring some of the best players in the state, entered with a combined record of 45-0.
Many fans were then surprised with what transpired in the morning session. Class 4A No. 1-ranked Hamilton Southeastern, led by Notre Dame recruit and Miss Basketball favorite Taya Reimer, was handed a 53-30 defeat by No. 2 Columbus North. Then No. 4 Logansport, led by Iowa-bound Whitney Jennings, was dealt an 83-54 defeat by Class 2A No. 1 Evansville Mater Dei.
The Berries were left scratching their heads of what went wrong against Mater Dei. For one, they were short-handed, as they’ve recently learned that starter Seanna Redman is indeed out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL injury. She has surgery scheduled and hopes to return for softball. And then their tallest player, 6-foot-1 Krista Kyyroenen, was out with an illness. The foreign exchange student from Finland still made the trip to take in the experience, but she was too sick to help the Berries on the court.
So the Berries played just six players for most of the day, one recently called up from the JV squad, and not only were they short-handed, they faced a size disadvantage against Mater Dei.
And Logan coach Jerry Hoover thought he may have been guilty of overconfidence entering the Mater Dei game. Hoover might have looked at the Wildcats’ schedule and thought they hadn’t really been tested yet. He attended a recent game in Evansville when they defeated Class A No. 3 Vincennes Rivet by just 13 points, and he attended last year’s Class 2A state title game and thought the game wasn’t played at the same level his Berries were playing at this season.
“It was my fault,” Hoover said.
The Berries got off to a sluggish start against the Wildcats, who came out firing on all cylinders. Mater Dei jumped out to 28-11 lead after one quarter, shooting 12 of 15 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point range. The lead ballooned to 45-22 at halftime. The Berries tried to get back into the game in the second half, but they couldn’t get enough stops to give themselves a chance, and they trailed 72-41 after three quarters.
Muensterman scored a semifinal record 40 points on 16-of-25 shooting, including 7 of 10 from 3-point range. The 5-11 junior added nine rebounds and five assists.
The Wildcats shot 50.7 percent from the field, 10 of 16 from behind the arc, while grabbing 17 offensive rebounds. They outrebounded Logan 45-36 for the game.
Tori Schickel added 17 points and 18 rebounds, which tied a Classic record, for the Wildcats.
Meanwhile, the shell-shocked Berries shot a season-low 33.3 percent from the field, 7 of 20 from 3-point range. They were forced to take tougher shots than they were accustomed to through the first 11 games of the season against the tall and athletic Wildcats, and they just didn’t have a good shooting day overall.
Whitney Jennings scored 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting. She added seven rebounds and six assists. Rachel Jennings had 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting, 4 of 6 from 3-point land. Madyson Price had 11 points and seven boards, and Nakeya Penny added 10 points and eight boards but was just 5 of 18 from the field. Kiley Victor chipped in three points and four boards.
“We didn’t play how we’re capable of playing, but Maura is a great player and she was hitting all of her shots and we weren’t playing that good of defense on her,” Whitney Jennings said. “But she’s a great player and take nothing away from her.”
Rachel Jennings said the event being postponed a day due to a winter storm didn’t do the Berries any favors with a forced extra-early start on Friday.
“The first game I just don’t think we were ready. The long bus ride, we didn’t come to play. We didn’t play great defense. We just didn’t score. Mater Dei’s a great team, they have some great players,” she said.
The Berries had just a few short hours to get some rest and get ready for Reimer and the mighty Royals, who entered the day with just one loss over the last two seasons — in a sectional game to eventual Class 4A state champion North Central a year ago. Reimer, a 6-3 forward, is the No. 4-ranked player in the nation on ESPN.com. She’s joined by 6-1 Jessica Pongonis, a Saint Joseph’s (Philadelphia) recruit.
The Berries were able to shake off the disappointment from earlier in the day and showed great resiliency in a 50-40 win over the Royals.
Whitney Jennings’ unbelievable conditioning level may have been the difference. In a battle of attrition between two tiring squads, she took over in the second half, continuing to push the ball in transition and either finishing or drawing fouls. She scored 10 of her game-high 19 points in the third quarter to give the Berries some separation. She was also able to shorten the game some for her tired teammates by running the four corners offense for a time during the frame.
Rachel Jennings and Penny hit back-to-back perimeter jump shots midway through the fourth quarter to push the lead to double digits, and the Berries hit 9 of 12 free throws in the final 2:20 to seal the huge win.
Rachel Jennings finished with 18 points. Whitney Jennings added six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Penny had nine points and six boards, Price had four points and five rebounds, Victor had seven boards and Syd Bullard chipped in four boards.
The Jennings sisters, Penny and Victor each played a full 32 minutes in the contest.
A big factor was the Berries had a much better effort on the boards than they did the first game of the day, as they outrebounded the much taller Royals by a 29-19 margin. Their defense was also not getting pierced like it was against Mater Dei.
Pongonis led the Royals with 14 points. Reimer was held to just six points and three rebounds and shot 3 of 11 from the field.
In both games of the day for the Royals, Reimer had to expend a lot of energy in the backcourt just handling the ball and had difficulty getting the ball in a decent position in the post.
The Berries could possibly meet the Royals again in February in Huntington in a regional game, and Hoover said he’d expect to see a different Royals squad if that’s the case.
“[HSE coach Chris Huppenthal] said that his team has just gotten to a point where they weren’t paying much attention to him and not paying much attention to anything. He kept telling them, ‘you’re going to get beat here.’ I asked him if he saw it coming, and he said ‘I saw it coming.’ See, I didn’t see it coming against Mater Dei. I thought we were going to beat them and this game right here would be in the championship game in the tournament.”
As for shutting down Reimer, who has a smooth handle and shot to go with being the biggest player in the Classic field, Hoover simply thanked his lucky stars that she didn’t have a better shooting night.
“I don’t know that we did anything special. We gave her special attention, but she wasn’t shooting like I’ve seen her shoot. I saw her just absolutely tear Brownsburg up, and Brownsburg is good. She didn’t have a good game, but that’s perfectly all right with a player of her stature. Once in a while you’re not going to have a good game.”
Columbus North went on to win the Classic title and did so in impressive fashion. The Bull Dogs (13-0) will undoubtedly be the No. 1-ranked team in the state and the team to beat in February and March. They defeated Mater Dei 63-55 in the title game. They appeared to be the most balanced and best defensive team in the field and probably the state.
Muensterman, who has received offers from Butler, Drake and Evansville, scored 22 in the loss. She was an offensive machine all day with a quick, high release on her shot to go with smooth ball-handling and passing skills. She shot 9 of 15 against Columbus North.
Overall it was a day the Berries (12-1) can use to improve going forward.
Whitney Jennings once again proved she belongs on the stage with the state’s top players. She’s been one of the best guards in the state ever since she first stepped foot on a varsity court as a freshman, and her sensational play draws thousands everywhere she goes for the Berries’ biggest games. She didn’t have the shooting day she’s capable of having or hoped to have had, but the 5-5 junior was still able to display the expert skill, elite athleticism, intense desire and non-stop motor that makes her so fun to watch. It wasn’t her or the Berries’ best day, but they were still able to salvage a win against a No. 1-ranked team.