By JON REITER
NEW ALBANY —
Floyd Central avenged a 10-point loss to Jennings County earlier in the season and advanced to tonight’s Class 4A New Albany Sectional championship against second-ranked and unbeaten Bedford North Lawrence with a 52-46 win over the Panthers at the Doghouse on Friday.
The Highlanders (12-11) jumped out to a 14-2 first quarter lead and never trailed in the contest against Jennings County (8-13).
However, there were a few anxious moments for Floyd Central throughout.
Two free throws from Jennings County’s Kristen Biggs narrowed the margin to 49-46 with just over a minute remaining, but Shelby Rost sank 1 of 2 free throws on the subsequent Floyd Central possession to make it 50-46 with 59.2 second left.
The Highlanders played solid defense against the Panthers on their next possession, forcing a turnover and killing time off the clock before Abbie Engle’s two free throws put it away with 10 seconds remaining.
“My assistant just told me that the only quarter we outscored them was in the first quarter,” said Floyd Central coach Kirk Hamsley. “So we did get that lead and hang on to win. But we played gritty and the kids fought. They did some nice things and did some bad things, but they found a way to win.”
In building their first-half lead, the Highlander defense forced Jennings County into 20 of their 30 turnovers. On offense, they also were in attack mode. Sophomore forward Madison Kaiser scored 12 of her 19 points in the first half and keyed the aggressive Floyd Central charge.
“I always like a fast start because it sets the tone for the game,” Kaiser said. “When we get going things can just roll for us.”
Jennings County trailed 30-20 at the half but cut it to within five at 36-31, after Biggs scored consecutive baskets in the span of about 15 seconds for Jennings County late in the third quarter.
Floyd would rebuild an 11-point lead, 46-35, after Brooke Hinton sank 1-of-2 free throws, but Jennings County began chipping away again, outscoring the Highlanders during an 11-3 run that culminated with Biggs’ two free throws with 1:03 remaining.
At that point, forward Victoria Kingsley (14 points) and Hinton, who is Floyd Central’s primary ballhandler, had already fouled out of the contest. But Floyd Central’s defense forced a bad shot from sophomore foward Baylee Kruger and a turnover on subsequent Panther possessions and was able to secure the win.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Kaiser said. “But we fought through, and got the win.”
Hamsley said he was proud of the intensity his squad played with at the onset of the contest and is looking forward to tonight’s daunting challenge against the Stars, who might be the favorite not just to win the sectional but the state championship.
“By pushing the ball hard against them, we got some easy shots and kind of got them back on their heels,” Hamsley said. “They weren’t able to come after us until the end of the first quarter and I thought that was the difference in the game.”
Kruger led Jennings County with 14 points. Biggs finished with 11.