CHARLOTTESVILLE — With both teams’ sectional tournaments just one week away, Monday’s matchup between Pendleton Heights and Eastern Hancock lined up as quality preparation for post-season play.
The host Royals are one of the area’s top teams in Class 2A. Pendleton Heights is in that same category in Class 4A.
Only one team could get a win, but both certainly benefited from a pre-tourney fine-tuning.
Pendleton Heights won its seventh game in its past eight outings by defeating Eastern Hancock 61-47.
“We knew this last week of the season was a good way to simulate a tournament atmosphere,” Pendleton Heights coach Chad Cook said. “We’re here on the road playing a tough Eastern Hancock team that’s going to play tough defensively and rebound well. It’s a lot like that first-round sectional game.
“We get that game on Wednesday with Noblesville in a semifinal matchup setup then come back Thursday against Pike. I thought what Eastern Hancock did today was a good test for us.”
Eastern Hancock coach Shari Doud, the head coach at Pendleton Heights from 2002-2012, said the Arabians may be the strongest opponent on their schedule.
She said her team learned a lot, but is hoping they don’t lose confidence coming up on the short end of the score.
“That’s a great Pendleton Heights team,” Doud said. “I told my girls in the locker room after the game that we can’t mentally get beat down because this game helps prepare us for the sectional. There are a couple of really good teams in our sectional. We can’t beat ourselves up and lose confidence.
“Competitive kids don’t like to lose and we have competitive kids on this team. … We have two more games to close out then all focus is on Triton Central (our first-round opponent). Some mistakes we made in this game we have to get corrected before going up against Triton Central. You learn from it, grow from it and perform better the next time.”
The first half was a shootout between Pendleton Heights freshman Kaycie Warfel and Eastern Hancock junior Grace Stapleton.
Warfel scored eight first-quarter points and helped get her club out to as much as an 11-point lead, 14-3.
The visitors looked to be in command until Stapleton scored late in the opening period on a couple of steals. She added a drive and lay-up early in the second to cut Pendleton Heights’ advantage to 16-10. It started a run of 10 straight points from the 5-6 guard. She followed with the first of her three second-quarter 3s. She also scored on a conventional three-point play, with a bucket and free throw to tie the game 16-16. Her NBA-range 3-pointer gave Eastern Hancock a 19-16 lead with 4:45 left in the half.
Warfel’s aggressive play got the Arabians the next seven points. The first five came on free throws. She scored off a steal to give Pendleton Heights a 25-19 lead with 2:03 remaining until halftime.
The Arabians led 29-22 at the break and for the rest of the game. Eastern Hancock, on three points each from Sammie Bolding and Ruby White got its second half off to a good start.
It was short-lived.
After the Royals cut the deficit to one, 29-28, the Arabians went on a 15-0 run. Abi Rosenkrans had seven third-quarter points. Warfel added five more to her total.
The Pendleton Heights rookie finished with a career-best 34 points, including 14 of 18 at the free throw line.
“Kaycie’s one of those special talents. With her defensive pressure she can lead herself into some offensive play,” Cook said. “Our defense has led us into some offense. It’s not a special defense, just good man-to-man in the halfcourt. We were able to get some run-outs there.
“(Kaycie) is just a freshman and she’s going to keep getting better. To think she was playing against eighth-graders last year. She’s come a long way and has a long ways to go. We’re proud of her. She’s very appreciative of her teammates getting her the ball and trusting in her.”
Stapleton had 20 to lead Eastern, 19 came in the first half. White had a strong second half for the hosts. She finished with 13, all in the final two periods. Bolding had 10.
For Pendleton Heights, Rosenkrans finished with nine. Kylea Lloyd, Hailee Brunnemer and Morgan Martin scored six points each.
The Arabians (16-4) went unbeaten in the Hoosier Heritage Conference and picked up a clean sweep of Hancock County opponents. Earlier this season, on their way to the HHC title, they defeated Mt. Vernon, New Palestine and Greenfield-Central – all teams they could meet again in next week’s Class 4A Sectional 9 at Mt. Vernon High School.
The Royals dropped to 14-6. All of their losses have come to either state-ranked schools or teams that are playing in higher classifications. Monday’s loss to Pendleton Heights was their second against a Class 4A team. They also lost recently at New Palestine.
Along with a loss to Class 3A New Castle, Eastern’s only other schedule blemishes are to Class 2A No. 8 Triton Central, Class 1A No. 1 Waldron and Class 1A No. 4 Blue River.
Against teams in Class 2A, the Royals are 7-1, but they’ll have to face that one team when play begins in Class 2A Sectional 42 at Heritage Christian School when they face Triton Central in a Friday Feb. 4 semifinal game.
Eastern Hancock completes its regular season play with a Mid-Eastern Conference contest at Randolph Southern Tuesday. The regular season finale is at home on Thursday against Tri.
As Cook mentioned in their sectional simulation week, they have another big test Wednesday, at home, against Class 4A No. 6 Noblesville (17-4). The Arabians finish the regular season Thursday with a home contest against Pike. Their Class 4A Sectional 9 opener will be on Wednesday, Feb. 2 against Richmond at Mt. Vernon.