RENSSELAER — A week ago, Plymouth’s girls basketball team ended a three-year sectional championship drought at New Prairie.
The Lady Pilgrims advanced through Griffith 32-25 in the morning game at Rensselaer Central, but their run at the program’s first regional championship since 2008 fell short when the No. 10-ranked squad dropped a 44-28 decision to No. 4 Benton Central in the title game Saturday night.
As it has all year, the Pilgrims’ defense came through against Benton Central as they held the Bison more than 21 points under their average. But in the end Plymouth simply couldn’t match firepower with Central as the team could neither consistently get the ball in the paint nor find the finishing touch from the outside, going 10 for 31 from the floor against the Bison’s 1-3-1 zone.
“We knew coming in that we needed to be patient and move the ball around and get a good shot… Our inability to score hurt us a little bit. We struggled a little bit on the offensive end,” said Plymouth head coach Dave Duncan.
After Central’s Cassidy Deno went off for 27 points on six 3-pointers in the tourney opener with host Rensselaer, Plymouth did a solid job containing her in the championship, holding her to 11 points with a stifling defensive effort spearheaded by sophomore guard Allie Wright. But fellow Bison senior starter Caitlyn Tolen picked up where Deno left off, taking the championship game over with 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 free throws in the second half for 18 of her game-high 28 points for the night.
“What a win. Plymouth is the best defensive team we’ve played all season,” said Benton Central coach David Baxter. “We just rode Caitlyn Tolen; she just took over in the second half and hit some tough shots. With her length and athleticism, it’s just hard to guard her.”
“Our plan going in was to contain those two (Deno and Tolen), and Tolen just got to the rim at will,” said Dunan. “We just did not do a very good job of slowing her down.”
Central jumped out to an 11-2 lead at the first quarter break as Plymouth scuffled to a 1-of-7 start from the floor. But the Pilgrims clawed their way back in the game with a 12-3 second quarter highlighted by nine of sophomore forward Hunter Stevens’ team-high 14 points for the night.
Defensively, Plymouth held Central to 1-of-6 shooting and flustered the Bison into six turnovers in the frame.
“It’s happened all year. Our kids just dig in,” said Dunan. “I thought tonight was a great example. We got down early, and the kids just kept working hard.”
Leading by a tentative 15-14 margin, Central pushed its lead back out to 22-14 with seven straight points at the start of the second half. An offensive foul and subsequent technical on the Plymouth bench with 9.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter resulted in four free throws by Tolen, and the Bison took a double-digit, 33-21 lead into the final frame.
Kaydon Fosler’s triple from the wing at the start of the final period pulled Plymouth back to single digits, and the sophomore reserve’s pull-up jumper off the elbow cut the Pilgrims’ deficit back to nine as she scored seven of her nine points in the fourth, but Central closed out the game 9-2 to earn the Bison their second regional championship in three years following the team’s run to state in 2011.
“I thought the big key for us was early in the game some of Plymouth’s younger players had some nerves, but they battled back,” said Baxter. “Our girls could’ve folded, but being already on this stage and the next stage, they weren’t rattled. Our seniors carried us, and our younger kids just kind of followed their lead. Being here before was nice, and it definitely was an advantage in the game. “
Plymouth bids goodbye to three seniors in Lauren Tanner, Amber Redinger and Andria Shook.
The good news for the team is that three of its starting five and four of the team’s top seven should return next year, but the bad news is that the squad’s senior class will leave some big shoes to fill replacing the trio of four-year players after their instrumental role in helping the program earn its first sectional title since their freshman seasons in 2010-11.
“We’re losing some great seniors,” said Duncan. “Andria and Lauren and Amber have put a lot of time into our program. All of them are four-year varsity players, and they’re going to be hard to replace. They’re hard-nosed kids, they work hard, and they do a lot of things for us. We have a nice young group coming back, and we’re excited for those kids.”
• BENTON CENTRAL 44, PLYMOUTH 28
At Rensselaer Central Regional
Benton Central: 11 15 33 44
Plymouth: 2 14 21 28
BENTON CENTRAL (44): Caitlyn Tolen 28, Cassidy Deno 11, Courtney Lester 2, Tessa Brouillette 0, Evonnie Payne 0, Kaitlyn Shields 1, Kaylan Coffman 2; Totals: 13 16-21 44.
PLYMOUTH (28): Hunter Stevens 14, Kaydon Fosler 9, Allie Wright 4, Lauren Tanner 1, Haley Harrell 0, Amber Redinger 0, Bailey Brown 0, Andria Shook 0; Totals: 10 7-14 28.
3-pointers: Plymouth 1 (Fosler), Central 2 (Deno 2); Rebounds: Plymouth 19 (Stevens 6), Central 26 (Deno 9); Turnovers: Plymouth 16, Central 14; Steals: Plymouth 6 (Wright 4), Central 7 (Tolen 2, Payne 2); Assists: Plymouth 2, Central 4; Fouls (fouled out): Plymouth 18 (Tanner), Benton Central 13.
Records: Benton Central 22-3, Plymouth 18-7 (final).
PLYMOUTH 32, GRIFFITH 25
As in the championship game, the Lady Pilgrims got off to a slow start in the semifinal with Griffith, starting 2 for 7 from the floor, all from 3-point land to fall behind 10-6 at the first quarter break.
But Plymouth picked it up on the defensive end to hold the Panthers to four points in the second frame, and senior Amber Redinger scored seven of her team-high 11 points in the quarter to push the Pilgrims out to a 19-14 halftime advantage. Griffith whittled the lead to two with 2:22 remaining in the third period, but Redinger’s baseline bucket on a backdoor lob from Lauren Tanner gave Plymouth a 23-18 lead headed into the final frame, and the Pilgrims held off Griffith for the 32-25 win and a regional title berth.
“I thought we didn’t shoot well from the outside. Quite obviously they scouted us really well and they took our inside game away early. They tried to pack the paint because they know we’re a penetrating team,” said Dave Duncan. “We hit a couple outside shots early, and that changes everything and they have to open up the inside game a little bit. Unfortunately we didn’t hit the outside shots, and we struggled.”
Plymouth was led by Redinger’s 11, while Haley Harrell finished with 10 points, including a pair of 3s, the first of which put Plymouth on the board at the 5:36 stop of the first quarter following a 4-0 start by Griffith and the second a triple from the wing at around the seven-minute mark of the third that gave Plymouth its largest lead of the night at 26-18.
“I thought we came out and we hurried shots. When we got the ball reversed from side to side a little bit in the fourth quarter Haley hit a big 3, and that’s part of our offense. I didn’t think we got the ball moving from side to side… I don’t know what it is, but four or five passes and the same shot goes in. When you come down and take it off of one or two passes it doesn’t go in.”
Griffith was led by Samantha Adams’ game-high 16 points, but none of the rest of the Panthers’ squad was able to convert more than a single field goal against Plymouth.
• PLYMOUTH 32, GRIFFITH 25
At Rensselaer Central Regional
Score by quarters
Griffith: 10 14 18 25
Plymouth: 6 19 23 32
GRIFFITH (25): Courtney Bell 0, Taylor Austin 2, Emma Blackard 3, Alyssa Gebo 2, Samantha Adams 16, Cynthia McInerney 0, Lisette Roldan 2; Totals: 10 1-9 25.
PLYMOUTH (32): Lauren Tanner 2, Hunter Stevens 4, Haley Harrell 10, Allie Wright 0, Amber Redinger 11, Kaydon Fosler 3, Andria Shook 2; Totals: 11 7-11 32.
3-pointers: Griffith 3 (Adams 3), Plymouth 3 (Harrell 2, Fosler); Rebounds: Griffith 25 (Austin 9), Plymouth 19 (Redinger 4); Assists: Griffith 6 (Bell 4), Plymouth 9(Harrell 3); Turnovers: Plymouth 17, Griffith 18; Steals: Griffith 7 (Austin 4), Plymouth 8 (Harrell 3, Redinger 3); Fouls: Griffith 15, Plymouth 13.
Records: Griffith 15-9 (final), Plymouth 18-6.