PENDLETON — Nothing personal; it was just a gift the Arabians would rather not have given their Dragons opponents.
It has been 24 years since the New Palestine Dragons had been able to claim a Hoosier Heritage Conference title, and they did it by defeating Pendleton Heights 52-40 at home Friday, Jan. 11.
For Dragons head coach Sarah Gizzi, this was a bit of déjà vu.
“It feels great,” Gizzi said afterward outside a jubilant locker room. “It’s a little extra special for me; we won conference at Pendleton when I was a senior that year, so for that to happen again was fun.”
The 17-2 Dragons got off to a slow start, as they scored only 6 points in the first quarter to the Arabians’ 11. But the Dragons reversed the trend, outscoring the Arabians 17-4 in the second quarter, creating a hole for the Arabians to dig out from.
“We knew we had clinched at least a share of the championship,” Gizzi said. “That took a bit of the pressure off, but that also may have contributed to our slow start.”
Each time the Arabians looked to spark a run in the second half, the Dragons were able to match the bucket on the other end.
Pendleton Heights was forced to apply pressure to attempt to get back into the game. Jordan Reid was the beneficiary of that strategy, as the Dragons’ press-beating led to 8 third-quarter points to keep the Arabians at bay.
“Most of the season has been a challenge for the Lady Arabians due to injury and depth,” Arabians coach Chad Cook said. “I thought our girls were very resilient and came out very focused in this game. Our defense kept us battling, and we just struggled to get some buckets and a few runs throughout the game.”
Despite struggling at the free throw line (they finished 11 for 28 at the line), the Dragons were able to comfortably close out the win and take home the title after seven-straight conference wins.
The experience is all preparation for the upcoming sectional in two weeks.
“When things are up against you, you gotta dig deep and find a way to succeed. I think our girls are doing just that, and many of these girls are jumping at the opportunity to get significant playing time in big games,” Cook said.
Even while fighting the Dragons, the Arabians incurred even more injuries.
“We got a little banged up in the game to add to our injuries, but we did a good job of sticking with it. We are looking forward to finishing the last couple weeks of the regular season well, and getting ready for the postseason,” Cook said.
Leonie Wilson topped the Arabians scorers with 11 points, while Kailyn Graham had 10. Megan Mills, who has been hot on the boards for the Arabians, grabbed 6 against the Dragons.
Saturday’s contest against Rushville was canceled because of weather. The Arabians (11-8) travel to Connersville Friday, Jan. 18, and visit Eastern Hancock Monday, Jan. 21, before closing out the regular season Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Noblesville.