By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
MIDDLETOWN, Ind. — Chelsea Kilian stood well behind the hive of activity Saturday night, watching her players celebrate and smiling like a proud mother.
The fourth-year Shenandoah coach was a part of two state titles as a player with the Raiders in 2003 and 2005. Moments earlier, she'd broken off from the end of the line as parents finished taking photos of the team huddled at midcourt and waved her arms to beckon the students waiting on the baseline to storm the floor and join the party.
Shenandoah's 65-40 victory against Frankton in the Class 2A Sectional 40 championship game gave the program its first postseason crown since 2008 and allowed Kilian her first taste of a title celebration as a head coach.
"I'm extremely happy for them," she said, soaking in the moment. "We had a couple rough years there, but they kept working and they kept fighting. They got into the gym every chance they got and kept trying to get better, and it paid off."
There had been some fear of a letdown following an emotional 53-50 upset of ninth-ranked Lapel on Friday night. But the Raiders (17-4) quieted those doubts with an 8-2 run to start the game and a 16-5 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
With the Eagles (7-13) focused on containing center Rachel Krathwohl, Kilian asked her players to work the ball into the middle of the floor. She wanted quick drives into the lane and good looks at the basket.
Shenandoah responded with six baskets from six different players to start the game and a first half that saw the team sink 17 of its 25 field-goal attempts.
As a result, the Raiders enjoyed a commanding 36-15 halftime lead.
"The one thing we've always told them is you don't want to get too high, and you don't want to get too low," Kilian said. "Every day is a new day. They're not going to remember what you did yesterday. It's all about what you do today. So a quick start was important for us."
Shenandoah maintained its offensive balance throughout the night.
Micah Kimball led the team with 16 points, and Macee Rudy added 10. Seven Raiders scored at least six points and four had at least four rebounds.
Kimball led the way on the boards as well with eight rebounds, and Shenandoah outrebounded Frankton 41-30 overall.
The Eagles used a hot stretch early in the third quarter, during which they hit four 3-pointers, to pull within 12 points at 41-29. But Shenandoah answered with a 9-0 run and was never threatened again.
The only drama in the fourth quarter came after Frankton's Katie Key fell to the court in a tangle with defenders and came away with cuts above her right eye. No foul was called on the play, and emotions ran high in the immediate aftermath.
Key, who led the Eagles with 10 points, attempted to return to the court after being cleaned up but lasted only about 1:30 of game time before the bleeding resumed. She left the floor about the 4:45 mark and did not return.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Frankton and put an unhappy end to a solid stretch run.
"The last couple of weeks, there's been a lot of positive things," Eagles coach Dean Riddle said. "We all understood this was going to be a big growing year for this team. The goal was to get better every day, and I really think we did that. All in all, this was a very successful year for this group."
Frankton loses just a pair of seniors — Marissa Stephens and Shania Ray — and gained the experience of playing in the sectional final for the second consecutive season.
On the other side of the court, Shenandoah won a sectional crown with two freshmen in the starting lineup and a roster that includes no seniors. Not bad for a program that hadn't enjoyed a winning season in six years.
"This is a great win for our team," Kimball said. "The last couple of years, we haven't earned much respect. Hopefully, this win will get a measure of respect for us."