CONNERSVILLE — The Pendleton Heights girls basketball team used a strong first quarter to build a big lead and hit its free throws down the stretch to hang on for a 58-49 win over New Castle in the first round of Class 4A sectional play at the Spartan Bowl.
The Arabians came out hot on both ends of the floor, hitting 9-of-18 shots in the first quarter and forcing seven New Castle turnovers to build a 23-6 lead. Coach Holly Hollinger’s squad used a 48-44 opening night loss to the Trojans as fuel.
“We got off to a great start tonight,” Hollinger said. “It was a revenge game that we wanted.”
The Arabians started two freshmen on opening night (Kelsey Burton and Sam Hammel), and there was a bit of nerves for the newcomers. The difference from then to now is like night and day.
“Very different,” Hollinger said describing Hammel and Burton now. “They were very timid, very fragile. Now they are much stronger and confident. Hammel is one of the leaders of our team.”
Hammel had six points in the first quarter, and Burton had five, but it was senior Kiawna Cottrell that saved the night.
Cottrell also got off to a hot start, going for eight points in the first quarter, but foul trouble limited her in the second quarter when the hot-shooting Arabians went cold (2-for-11). New Castle was not any better in the second, converting just three of 18 attempts, and Pendleton increased its lead to 30-12 at the break.
New Castle played well in the third quarter but only cut three points off the deficit. It was early in the fourth when things got interesting, and Hammel and Cottrell made some key plays to save the season as New Castle started to seize momentum.
Hammel took a chance on a steal at midcourt and made it work as she raced to the other end for a layup after Shelby Anderson hit a 3 to cut the lead to 10.
Cottrell picked up fouls three and four on successive plays in the fourth with a little under four minutes left and Pendleton hanging on to a 48-40 lead. Cottrell stayed on the floor and scored six of the team’s final 10 points of the game.
But it was on the other end of the court where she may have come up even bigger. Cottrell cut off Alaynie Woollard and blocked her shot from under the basket with Pendleton up nine and later grabbed a key rebound and hit a layup to help preserve the lead.
“I knew I had to play smart,” Cottrell said. “I made sure everything was there to get the block.”
Cottrell, who led the team with 19 points, also made sure her career at Pendleton had at least one more game.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game," she said. "I was just trying to do everything I could to make sure this was not my last game at Pendleton.”
New Castle got within seven points three separate times in the final frame but could not get closer.
Pendleton hit 21 of 29 free throws, including 9 of 12 in the final quarter to maintain its edge.
Hammel finished with 13 points, and Taylor Siefken and Burton each had nine.
The Trojans, who were led by Anderson’s 20 points, finish the year at 14-5. Pendleton is now 14-7 and will face Anderson on Friday at Connersville in the second semifinal.