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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Panthers leave claw marks

Jorie Allen

BNL’s Jorie Allen powers her way past a defender. Allen scored 15 points, but the Stars suffered a 61-37 loss to No.4 North Central on Friday night.

No.4 North Central wears

down BNL with pressure,

pulls away to 61-37 victory

Box score

By Justin Sokeland

TheHHCSports.com

The difference between a diamond and a lump of coal? Pressure.

The main difference between Class 4-A No.4 North Central and No.13 Bedford North Lawrence? Ditto.

In a battle classified as a tape-measure game, the Stars came up far short, surrendering to North Central’s relentless, swarming, claws-and-paws defensive pressure during a 61-37 setback on Friday night at BNL Fieldhouse. BNL had neither the athletes, nor the mental persistence, to withstand the constant barrage of traps, harassment and challenges.

Rikki Harris, one of the highly-ranked recruiting targets in the nation’s sophomore class, scored 19 points and grabbed 9 rebounds while directing an all-out blitz that left BNL gasping and grasping. The Stars were clinging like hairs on a static-charged shirt, down 31-26 midway through the third quarter. But they lost their tentative grip and got dusted from that point.

Rikki Harris paced North Central (4-0) with 19 points and 9 rebounds.

Rikki Harris paced North Central (4-0) with 19 points and 9 rebounds.

The Panthers (4-0) have earned a first-place vote in recent state polls, and they showed why they deserve that kind of respect. Their 17-3 run tore open the path to victory, and BNL’s 23 turnovers made that a smooth road.

“It was just our pressure in the second half,” North Central coach DeeAnn Ramey said. “That’s one of our fortes. We wear a lot of people down. Our girls go at it.”

BNL’s goal of keeping the turnover total under 15 (the Stars had 31 in last year’s road loss to the Panthers) was not met. The Stars also had to make the Panthers pay for their defensive arrogance by hitting perimeter shots, and that didn’t happen (2 of 11) either. Once fatigue and fear were sensed, the Panthers pounced.

BNL could not escape. This loss left claw marks.

“If we don’t make perimeter shots against someone of that quality, it’s going to be tough for us to stay up with them,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “They turned up the heat on us a little bit and we got a little more tentative.

“I think it wears on you after a while. And when kids make a mistake, if they’re not real experienced, they start getting hesitant.”

BNL's Allie Crulo-Rood looks for help against a trap. The Stars were guilty of 23 turnovers.

BNL’s Allie Crulo-Rood looks for help against a trap. The Stars were guilty of 23 turnovers.

BNL’s start was solid enough. Jorie Allen and Jacy Hughes both scored twice as BNL drew even at 11-11 after the first quarter, but the first cracks started showing in the second. Harris became a factor, erupting for 9 points as North Central surged to a 26-20 lead at the half.

Allie Crulo-Rood’s baseline jumper and Allen’s post basket cut the margin to 31-26. And then the walls caved in as BNL’s fundamental foundation of ballhandling, decision making, and cool under duress became a collapsing house of cards.

“I said all along I think they’re one of the best teams in the state,” Allen said. “I think we can learn a lot against them. They’re tough to handle.”

Harris had plenty of help, because North Central has a weapon at almost every position. Ajanae Thomas, on her way to Indiana State, scored 11 points (all in the fourth quarter), Taylor Ramey had 11 and Ajah Stallings added 9. North Central had only two turnovers in the second half. Harris was the catalyst.

BNL's McKenzie Messmore finds some free space on her way to the basket. The Stars suffered their first loss of the season.

BNL’s McKenzie Messmore finds some free space on her way to the basket. The Stars suffered their first loss of the season.

“She played hard,” Ramey said. “She’s a great team player, she was good on the boards, she defended well. She makes a big difference.”

BNL, for the first time this season, looked overmatched and outclassed. Every time they dribbled into what looked to be a “safe place” on the court, the Stars got double-teamed. Every time they relaxed, they were shook by another swooping defender. They were out of their comfort zone with quick shots.

Allen finished with 15 points.

BNL (4-1) will have little time to regroup. The Stars returned to the HHC wars on Saturday night when they visit Jeffersonville. The Red Devils (1-2) stopped Silver Creek 53-36 while BNL was suffering its worst loss since the infamous 54-20 beatdown at Jeffersonville during the 2010-11 season.