By Travis Whitton
For The Herald Bulletin
FISHERS, Ind. —
The Pendleton Heights girls basketball team obviously didn’t pay attention to the team rankings as the Arabians fought the Class 4A, No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern squad before dropping a 59-53 decision Tuesday.
Not only are the Royals (8-0) ranked No. 1 in the state but they also boast the No. 4-ranked girls basketball player in the nation — Taya Reimer. Reimer went cold in the second half after putting up 17 in the first.
Pendleton Heights’ defense collapsed on both the 6-foot-3 Notre Dame signee Reimer and 6-1 St. Joseph (Pa.) signee Jessica Pongonis.
Kenzie Gustin bounced back from a first-half slump to score 11 of her team-high 18 points to keep her team in the game.
The first quarter started off a little shaky for the Arabians (5-3), as Reimer scored at will. She went off for 11 points in the quarter behind 5-of-6 shooting from the field and 1-of-1 from the free-throw line.
She missed just two of her 10 shots in the first half, and Pongonis hit three of her four shots in the half. Pendleton Heights used Kiawna Cottrell’s quickness to drop down on defense in the post when the Royals threw it in to the two bigs, and their team defense caused the two to go 6-of-13 combined from the field in the second half.
The Arabians trailed by just seven points at the end of the first quarter (20-13) and at the half (32-25) despite trailing 28-17 with 4:20 left in the second quarter.
They trailed by 10 points heading into the final period of play, but they closed the gap to four points with 19.2 seconds remaining in the game before running out of gas.
Pendleton Heights coach Holly Hollinger said that despite this game leading them into a three-game losing streak she was proud that they got some offense after slumping the past two games.
“We had lost our offense the past two games,” she said. “My offensive threats, we just kind of disappeared — we were just lost. I said, ‘if you do some of those things right you’ll play right with them.’ Lo-and-behold we did that. I couldn’t be more proud of my girls.”
Hamilton Southeastern coach Chris Huppenthal told Hollinger after the game that her Arabians squad outplayed his team.
Hollinger said the way her team played gave them the confidence they needed as they progress throughout the season.
“I think tonight was a confidence builder for us,” Hollinger said. “Knowing now that they can be as good as anybody if they play together, and to come within (six) points of beating them — that was big for my girls’ confidence tonight — and I’m very proud of them.”
Pendleton Heights’ coach said that if her team plays the rest of the season like they did Tuesday night they could be playing this same team in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I said, ‘Let’s not even worry about them being the No. 1 team in the state.’ Because if we would ask everybody in the stands what would the score have been they would’ve probably told us we would’ve got beat by 30-40 points tonight,” Hollinger said. “That’s probably what my girls believed going into it, they were terrified.
“Coming out we played right with them,” she added. “Hopefully, the next time we could see them would be at the state. If they play like that every game they could easily get there. We’ll see how we do down the stretch here.”
Reimer had 25 points for the Royals. Pongonis and Megan Walton added 14 and 10 points, respectively. Pongonis led her team with 11 rebounds.
Gustin got 18 for the Arabians while Tiffany Wertz and Cottrell went for 14 and 12, respectively. Cottrell grabbed a team-high seven boards.