Going into the title game, Trinity Lutheran’s girls basketball team had two major focuses: stifling defense and efficient free throw shooting.
By controlling those two facets of the game, the Cougars felt they had a shot at a return to glory.
Trinity accomplished those goals when it mattered most.
The Cougars claimed the Sectional 62 Championship at West Washington High School on Saturday, defeating the hosts 55-34.
It was the third time the program has cut down the nets, and first time since the 2013-14 season.
“There’s just no better feeling than being back on top,” Trinity coach Mike Lang said. “We had a couple tough years. It’s just a matter of belief. This (win) gives those kids the confidence to know that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to. It let’s us know that we’re a little bit of a basketball school, too.”
Trinity held the Senators to 28 points under their offensive point average while also dominating the rebounding battle 39-25. From the charity stripe, the Cougars made 30 of 38 free throws in the win.
The Cougars came out fired up off the opening tip.
After the Senators (16-9) opened with a basket, the Cougars (21-5) scored seven unanswered points to lead by five with 4:05 left in the first quarter before a timeout was called.
Out of the huddle, the Cougars extended its scoring streak to lead 13-2 with 2:47 on the clock. In the stretch, Savannah Harweger and Abby Hackman each scored four points and Piper Acton hit a 3-pointer.
After eight minutes of play, the Cougars led 13-4.
Following a score from the Senators’ Cora Miller, Hackman hit a jumper and split free throws to put the Cougars up 16-6 four minutes into the second quarter.
However, Trinity wouldn’t score again before the break, and the Senators took advantage by adding five points to its total.
At intermission, the Cougars led 16-11.
“We just had to keep our composure and play our game,” Acton said. “We started off by playing our game, but then they got in our heads a little bit. After halftime we came out and left it all on the floor.”
Out of the half, the Cougars slowly built the lead until a 3-pointer from Jodi Goecker and basket by Harweger extended the Cougars’ lead to 27-19 with 3:15 on the clock.
In the final 2:39 of the quarter, the Cougars went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe to lead 36-26 at the end of 24 minutes of play.
The Senators went into the fourth quarter with eight fouls, as the Cougars kept attacking at the rim.
Seventeen of the 19 Cougars points in the final quarter came from the free throw line.
Making 6 of 8 from the 6:20- to 4:34-mark, the Cougars constructed a 46-28 advantage with four minutes remaining.
Running out the clock, Trinity was able to hit enough free throws to secure the win.
“Coach said that we needed to play through the adversity and play our game at halftime,” Goecker said. “We needed to keep playing defense. We’ve been working on playing great defense and making free throws for a long time. We knew that free throws were going to win this game. Coming in, we had made 14 of 30 from the line in the previous game. It was a whole team effort.”
Lang said that the team did a nice job of sticking to its assignments.
“We clamped in on their shooters,” he said. “We didn’t let their shooters get going for one minute. We knew that (Chelsea) Carter and (Rian) Russell, and (Kassidy) Keltner, have been playing really well. We were going to make them beat us on the drive and posting up because we’re strong down low with Abby and Sydney. Savannah, Jodi, Piper, Maddie (Bell), they all did an outstanding job of guarding the perimeter tonight. That was the game plan and they executed it.”
Hackman led the Cougars with 14 points, Harweger had 12, Jaynes scored 11 and Acton totaled nine. Keltner topped the Senators’ scoring with 13 points.
“It has been a fantastic year,” Lang said. “These kids have endured three first round losses in the past three years. We took a really convincing, dominating, second half. It was the best basketball they’ve played all year in the second half, in my opinion. I’m just proud of them. Words really can’t put into perspective of just how proud I am of them.”
Harweger had 11 rebounds and Jaynes pulled down 10 on the boards.
“It means so much,” the Cougars’ Savanna Setty said. “Every year we’ve gotten knocked out in the first round. It was just the amazing feeling. I love how we played as a team.”
The Cougars will return to West Washington for regional play on Saturday.
Trinity will face Northeast Dubois (17-7), which defeated Wood Memorial — last year’s Class A Champions — in its sectional final, at noon.
Should the Cougars win, they will face the winner of Vincennes Rivet (23-2) and South Central (19-5) in the regional championship at 8 p.m.
“We’re familiar (with the courts),” Lang said. “We need to get five wins (at West Washington) this season, and we’re 3-0. Now it’s a matter of sealing the deal and getting the job done. It only gets tougher next week. We’re going to get after it in practice.”
The Cougars are confident moving forward.
“My seniors and I have been working so hard for this, for four years,” Hackman said. “We worked so hard this season to become this team we are now, and we don’t plan on stopping.”
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Trinity Lutheran’s 2017-18 Sectional 62 Championship roster
Head coach: Mike Lang
Seniors: Abby Hackman, Jodi Goecker, Piper Acton, Savanna Setty.
Juniors: Delaney Maschino, Lauren Fleetwood, Savannah Harweger, Maddie Bell, Emilee Lang.
Sophomores: Hannah Sabotin, Emma Goecker.
Freshmen: Sydney Jaynes, Genesis Munoz.