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Northwestern rolls over Maconaquah in sectional final

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OUT OF REACH: Maconaquah’s Tara Wagoner (Front) can’t reach a loose ball with Northwestern’s Kendall Bostic (Back) in the frame during Monday night’s IHSAA Girls’ Basketball Class 3A Sectional No. 20 final. The No. 1 Tigers pounced early and rolled on to the regional with an 80-23 win over the Braves.
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TOUCHING DISTANCE: Maconaquah freshman Lilly Maple (12) tries to grab the ball before it goes out of bounds during Monday night’s Frankfort sectional final. Maple led the Braves with 14 points in the 80-23 loss to No. 1 Northwestern.

BY TRENT SCOTT - tscott@perutribune.com

FRANKFORT – What happened when Maconaquah and No. 1 Northwestern met in the IHSAA Class 3A Sectional No. 20 final was not unexpected.

The Tigers raced out to a 27-0 lead before Lilly Maple scored the only basket for the Braves in the opening quarter and by the end of the game the defending state champions walked out with a comfortable 80-23 win.

More important for Maconaquah was being there in the first place, nearly matching the previous four-year win total in the process according to head coach PJ Hatcher.

“We had to win two games to get here and while tonight didn’t go the way we wanted it, we’re trying to put our best foot forward,” Hatcher said. “We were giving effort but we needed to find the level (Northwestern) was playing at, which is a very high level.

“We had the intensity needed in spurts; people were cheering, the bench was engaged and girls were still believing. It was a tough loss but at least they got the experience and we can move on.

“We’ve played them five times the past three years and for the freshmen and sophomores now that are going to carry this program forward,’ it’s awesome experience,” Hatcher added.

Northwestern held nothing back in the opening minutes, pressing Maconaquah into turnover after turnover and scoring at will.

It wasn’t until Maple finally connected from close range that the Braves got on the board but the tone of the game had already been well and truly established.

Maple added a free throw and a three while Monica Moore scored from close range late in the second period as the Tigers took a 50-8 lead into the break.

More of the same came in the third quarter as the Tigers began to focus more on set plays yet continued to stifle Maconaquah at every turn save for three points from McKenna Wilson.

As Northwestern began to use its reserves more liberally in the fourth quarter, the Braves had more room to work with as Maple would score eight points in the period while Moore and Alex Merritt added baskets of their own.

As the level of players and play began to even out, Hatcher said the girls were able to express themselves in a way that was more familiar to fans.

“We had different goals tonight, whether it was getting a charge, drawing an over-the-back call, focus on blocking out, etc.,” Hatcher said. “We enjoyed it when we finally saw them play the way they normally play.

“For some reason, the girls got caught up in the notion of what we expected the game to be like. It wasn’t about us playing Northwestern; it was the idea of competing and getting past our own fallacies.

“Once we get past that point and play to a certain level, we’ll be able to compete with teams like that,” Hatcher added. “It was a big jump tonight, going from competing against teams that might be a little ahead of us to playing the No. 4 team in the state.”

As a whole, the sectional run and the games before it were what the team needed to get the team to think about the next level of play according to Hatcher, pointing to the team’s five wins in its last seven games as a sign of its growth.

“The sky’s the limit with this group but we still have to put in the work,” Hatcher noted. “We had a great season, had to play tough to get the two sectional wins we got and even going back to the North Miami and Whitko games, we had to battle to get those wins.

“The girls played smarter basketball, more unified basketball and as the pieces continue to fall together, it’s going to be exciting. Everything has been planned for our good and we’re going to be better because of it.”

Maconaquah finished the season 11-13, a win shy of matching the total amount of wins over the previous four years, and with a 4-5 mark in TRC, quadrupling its conference win total since joining the league.

With only two seniors in Ashley Jess and Josie Pyke and no juniors in the squad, Hatcher said the younger players were now totally in charge of where the program went moving forward.

“We’ve learned how to compete and do so at a high level this year,” Hatcher said. “We’ve learned how to win and we’re getting closer to learning how to continue winning.

“We had to do that to reach a championship and now the goal is to win a championship. The next stage is to learn how to win a championship then continue winning championships.

“That starts with some of the fundamental things we’re still developing and bringing people along with us,” Hatcher added. “We want to get to a point where, no matter who we have on the floor, we don’t see a drop off in our play.

“We’ve got a lot of good things coming together to make a great recipe. We can’t give any more accolades to Ashley and Josie for helping mold these freshmen and sophomores, doing things the right way and while it’s sad to get off the ride this year, we’ll get back on it next year and go again.”