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GIRLS BASKETBALL: Stars scratch past these cats

Jorie Alen

BNL’s Jorie Allen powers her way through traffic in the lane. Allen had 17 rebounds as the Stars muscled past Bloomington South 37-29 on Tuesday night.

BNL grinds out 37-29

road triumph over

Panthers to go 4-0

Box score

By Justin Sokeland

BLOOMINGTON – Few shots were falling. Now that could the result of Bloomington South switching out regular rims for the carnival-size targets, and certainly nobody was going home with a fluffy stuffed animal as a prize. Or perhaps about 14 kids need to visit their eye doctor.

The wall of bricks in front of her did not faze Bedford North Lawrence sophomore Allie Fugate. Shooters always believe, in their stone-cold hearts, the next one is going down. Her last one sure did, and with it went Bloomington South.

McKenzie Messmore drives and dishes to an open teammate. Messmore had 9 points.

McKenzie Messmore drives and dishes to an open teammate. Messmore had 9 points.

Fugate drained a corner 3-pointer with 1:13 left, propping up her tettering team as the Class 4-A No.13 Stars scratched out a 37-29 victory over the Panthers on Tuesday night and improved to 4-0 with one of those grind-it-out wins that South always seems to demand.

Nothing about South is pretty, not unless purple is a preferred color, and some of the bruises on both teams will turn that hue. This was a grim, grabby battle, when a basket should have been awarded a purple heart. Fugate’s bomb, with her team clinging to a 30-27 lead before it swished so smoothly, sucked the air out of the place.

What is it about South-BNL clashes that creates these games? “It’s this way every time,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said, and that includes the time a recent state champion made the same trip and struggled. One reason is South is a tenacious defensive team. Now if the Panthers could only shoot, this might have had a different ending.

BNL didn’t exactly start a fire with its strokes, but by comparison South was an gigantic iceberg, converting only 10 of 43 shots. For the Panthers to be within one possession in the final two minutes was a testament to sheer determination.

BNL's Kennedy Bunch runs into defenders while attacking the basket.

BNL’s Kennedy Bunch runs into defenders while attacking the basket.

And then here’s Fugate, firing. That’s what she does. BNL had already missed a jumper on this crucial trip, but a second-chance rebound was kicked out to her in her favorite spot. She didn’t hesitate, probably didn’t blink. And when it splashed home, when South called a timeout to regroup from the aftershock, BNL’s Jorie Allen was the first one to her teammate, and her look told everyone how big that bucket was.

“The biggest shot of the game,” South coach Larry Winters said.

After that, BNL cruised home as Jacy Hughes and Fugute cemented the win with late free throws. In fact, Fugute scored 7 fourth-quarter points, and she would not have been the first choice to be the clutch hero.

“She has a shooter’s mentality,” Allen said. “If she’s open, unless Coach says ‘Hey, I don’t want that shot,’ she’s pulling the trigger. You need kids who aren’t afraid to shoot the next shot.

“She’s starting to get her old form back (after a summer battling health issues), which is exciting because it gives us another weapon. She gave us some good minutes.”

The Stars never trailed, taking control when Allie Crulo-Rood buried the first shot – a 3-pointer. From that moment until the Fugute launch, there was a whole lot of missing going on. The Stars were only 11 of 33 overall, and the teams combined to hit 6 of 39 treys. That (.153) is an ideal weight, not a shooting percentage. Perhaps they should have considered an alternative.

BNL's Jacy Hughes tracks South's Lauren Leal. The Panthers hit only 10 of 43 shots.

BNL’s Jacy Hughes tracks South’s Lauren Leal. The Panthers hit only 10 of 43 shots.

BNL stayed in front, because Allen scored 11 points but played a bigger role by grabbing 17 rebounds (“It seemed like she was getting every one,” her father said, and when she waded into the fray after one, she did get them all). McKenzie Messmore added 9 points. BNL owned a commanding 34-22 rebounding advantage.

South held BNL, one of the top scoring teams in the state after the first two weeks of the regular season, to almost half its offensive average.

“They’re really good defensively,” Allen said. “They just are. We missed shots we thought we should have made, but their defense had a lot to do with it. You have to give them credit.

“They’re just a tough team to play. You feel like you’re going to get some separation, and they just come clawing back. You know what you’re getting when you go up against them. So I’ll take it. It’s a good win.”

South (2-1) did a lot of good things: only 5 turnovers, holding Allen to half her scoring average, making all its free throws. But the shooting woes overshadowed everything. Leading scorer Addy Blackwell hit only 1 of 12 and finished with 7 points.

“Defensively, we’re able to stay in games,” Winters said. “That’s what you want to do. We’re getting good looks, we’re just not shooting with good confidence. You have to be able to put the ball in the basket – eventually.”

BNL will return home for a clash with No.4 North Central on Friday night.