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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Can Stars survive pressure cooker?

BNL's Allie Crulo-Rood scans the court. The Stars started with a win over Mooresville, now they will face Seymour in the HHC opener.

BNL’s ability to handle defensive pressure will be tested when the Stars (4-0) face No.4 North Central (3-0) on Friday night at BNL Fieldhouse.

BNL faces extreme weekend

tests against No.4 North

Central and Jeffersonville

By Justin Sokeland

TheHHCSports.com

Somebody out there, a coach with the power of the ballot, believes North Central is the best team in the state. Bedford North Lawrence will test that opinion, on the court where theories are tested and facts matter, on Friday night.

Officially, North Central is No.4 in the latest Class 4-A poll, and the Panthers (3-0) will present BNL’s biggest challenge yet this season. How good are the No.13 Stars? With no disrespect to the first four opponents that have been vanquished, they are about to find out, in a pressure cooker.

BNL statistics

North Central thrives on its defensive tenacity, on its ability to press, to create chaos and panic. The Panthers forced 30 turnovers during their recent 71-44 demolition of Mooresville, and BNL can sympathize. The Stars coughed up 31 during last year’s 39-31 loss at North Central. When the turnover total matches the point total, it’s bad news.

“That’s the focus,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “We have to take care of the basketball. We feel like, if we do that, we’ll be in a good position to compete with them. hopefully put ourselves in a position to win.

“These kids have been in some pressure situations. They feel pretty confident in their abilities and pretty confident in each other. So I think they will lean on each other. Not that their pressure won’t put us in some tough situations, but they will lean on each other to bail each other out.”

Junior point guard McKenzie Messmore and the Stars will face a relentless press against the Panthers. BNL had 31 turnovers in last year's loss at North Central.

Junior point guard McKenzie Messmore and the Stars will face a relentless press against the Panthers. BNL had 31 turnovers in last year’s loss at North Central.

North Central has talent at every position. Senior forward Ajanae Thomas (11.7) is an Indiana State recruit, junior Ajah Stallings (13.0) is a Division I recruiting target, and heralded sophomore guard Rikki Harris is ranked among the top national prospects in her class. Not to be overlooked, junior left-handed sniper Taylor Ramey (13.7) scored 16 points against BNL last time.

Harris, a 5-9 guard with skills that make her coveted by most of the Big Ten programs, is the obvious threat at 15 points per game, and BNL’s defensive decisions will center on her before branching out.

“She can attack off the dribble, she has good range,” Allen said. “She’s a tough matchup for anybody, but I would come right back and say Jorie (Allen) is the same thing. They don’t have anybody with her size. So we just need to make their athletes shoot contested shots over hands. If we can do that, it’s put us in the best position possible.”

“Rikki is so versatile,” North Central coach DeeAnn Ramey said. “She can play and defend any position. She understands the game better than anyone I’ve ever coached.”

Allen leads the Stars in scoring (19.3) and rebounding (11.9). BNL has made the promised shift to a faster-paced, fire-at-will attack, with McKenzie Messmore (9.8) and Kennedy Bunch (9.3) hovering near double figures. But the Stars, while shooting more perimeter shots to loosen the congestion around Allen in the paint, are converting only 28 percent from long range. This might be a good time to catch fire.

“I believe it’s a good test for us, to see where we are and what we need to improve on,” Allen said. “We know what to expect, so hopefully we can execute better than we did last year against their pressure. That will be the key.”

“Pressure defense is our strength,” Ramey said. “We love to generate our offense from our defense. Rebounding will be an important stat. We’re going to have to block out at all positions.”

BNL at Jeffersonville

On Saturday night, BNL will return to the Hoosier Hills Conference battles and hit the road for the first time in the league. Jeffersonville, while off to a scuffling start, can’t wait to greet the Stars at the doors of Johnson Arena.

Jeffersonville coach Mike Warren reacts to a call. The Devils finished 15-11.

Jeffersonville coach Mike Warren and the Devils hope to end a 9-game losing streak to BNL.

“It’s no secret it’s a big game,” Jeffersonville coach Mike Warren said. “It’s one the kids look forward to.”

BNL has been Jeffersonville’s nemesis. The Stars have won nine straight in the series since the Devils roared to the 2011 state championship, and three of those victories have been in sectional finals. But right now, Jeffersonville has a more pressing issue. The Devils are 0-2 after starting with losses to Class 3-A No.1 North Harrison (27-25) and Bloomington South (49-43), and they host Silver Creek on Friday night.

“When you’re 0-2, you prepare for the team in front of you,” Warren said. “Our focus is trying to get a win, get a little confidence.”

Jeffersonville, while searching for a new leading scorer after the graduation of Taylor Sykes, has a veteran cast, but the Devils have struggled for offensive production. Warren will likely do some lineup tinkering and rotation adjustments until he finds the right combinations.

“We just miss a lot of easy shots,” Warren said. “If there’s a way to coach layups, I’d sure like to know it. We miss shots I expect us to make, and it’s hard to beat teams when you score 25 and 43 points. We have a lot of capable scorers.

“We’re struggling offensively, but I don’t think it’s something that will last.”

NORTH CENTRAL at BNL

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

Kennedy Bunch works free under the basket. BNL fell to 2-3 as it still searches for a road victory.

Kennedy Bunch and the Stars suffered a 39-31 loss at North Central last season.

Records: BNL 4-0, ranked No.13 in Class 4-A; North Central 3-0, ranked No.4 in Class 4-A

Last meeting: BNL was guilty of 31 turnovers during a 39-31 loss at North Central. Taylor Ramey had 16 points and Ajah Stallings added 11 for the Panthers. Jorie Allen had 11 points for the Stars.

Game note: North Central won the 2012 Class 4-A state championship. The Panthers also won state titles in 2004 and ’05. Head coach Dee Ann Ramey is in her sixth season with the program.

Last year’s recap

BNL starting lineup

F – Allie Crulo-Rood 5-7 Jr.

F – Jorie Allen 6-1 So.

F – Kennedy Bunch 5-8 Sr.

G – McKenzie Messmore 5-6 Jr.

G – Jacy Hughes 5-5 So.

North Central starting lineup

F – Ajanae Thomas 5-9 Sr.

F – Rikki Harris 5-9 So.

G  – Ajah Stallings 5-8 Jr.

G – Andrea Robertson 5-6 Sr.

G – Taylor Ramey 5-6 Jr.

BNL at JEFFERSONVILLE

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Jorie Allen

Jorie Allen had 20 points and 12 rebounds in last year’s sectional final against Jeffersonville.

Records: BNL 4-0 (1-0 in the HHC); Jeffersonville 0-2 (0-0 in HHC, vs. Silver Creek on Friday)

Last meeting: The Stars claimed their fifth straight sectional title with a 42-36 victory. Jorie Allen paced BNL with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Game note: BNL has won nine straight games in the series over the last five years since the Red Devils won the Class 4-A state title in 2011. The Stars have won their last five games in Johnson Arena, where they claimed the 2015 sectional crown.

Last meeting recap

BNL starting lineup

F – Allie Crulo-Rood 5-7 Jr.

F – Jorie Allen 6-1 So.

F – Kennedy Bunch 5-8 Sr.

G – McKenzie Messmore 5-6 Jr.

G – Jacy Hughes 5-5 So.

Jeffersonville starting lineup

F – Jacinta Gibson 5-10 Jr.

F – Jaelyn Lee 5-9 Sr.

C – Chelsea Gibson 6-1 So.

G – Jaylynn Brown 5-7 Jr.

G –  Jasmine Lilly 5-5 So.