ELNORA — The stage was set for a celebration at the Cougar Den, but nobody told Wood Memorial.
The Trojans (9-8) forced 26 turnovers and upset Class A No. 9 North Daviess (15-3) 43-32 Thursday night to spoil the Cougars’ Senior Night. The ceremony honoring the Cougars’ four seniors — Meghan Knepp, Sabra Smith, Abby Hollis and Maggie Swartzentruber was an emotional start to a difficult night for the Cougars and their fans.
“When you let emotions carry into a game, you lose focus,” said North Daviess coach Ron Knepp. “I thought our focus on the game was not to the level it has to be when you play a team that good. You have to be able to focus and part of focus is being in the right spots, not leaving your teammate under pressure and always being ready for the reversal pass. That’s prat of being focused and knowing where you need to be at what time you need to be there.”
The Cougars were put to the test from the opening tip against a intense pressure defense from Wood Memorial. North Daviess jumped out to a 10-5 lead with 2:05 to play in the quarter after back-to-back layups from Brooke Moore and Abby Cecil. The Trojans didn’t blink. Wood Memorial scored seven of the final nine points of the quarter to tie the Cougars at 12. In the second quarter, Wood Memorial turned up the heat defensively by forcing 10 of the Cougars’ 15 first half turnovers and doubled up North Daviess on the scoreboard — 12-6 — to take a 24-18 lead into halftime. Bailey Perkins and Breanna Maikranz each netted a 3-pointer and Carsen Robinson added four points. The Cougars got two points each from Cecil, Taylor Mallett and Moore. The 24 points given up by North Daviess in the first half was five less than the per game average of 29 the Cougars own for the season.
“We weren’t disciplined in our defensive effort,” Knepp said. “We had two people in one spot on several occasions and we can’t do that. I think that can be corrected pretty easily. It just was not our night.”
The beginning of the third quarter wasn’t much better for the Cougars as Wood Memorial took complete control as it pushed the lead to 30-19 with 3:20 to play in the quarter. Meghan Knepp’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 30-22, but a turnover and a technical foul on North Daviess pushed the lead to double digits again. A late Knepp layup cut the lead to 33-24 at the end of the quarter, but the Trojans appeared to be in complete control.
Back-to-back Sabra Smith baskets brought North Daviess within three points at 33-30, the closest it had been since the second quarter. Despite being on the cusp of tying the game, the Cougars couldn’t capitalize on multiple opportunities to tie the game and Wood Memorial pulled away by ending the final six minutes on a 10-2 run to close out the 11-point victory.
“Our emotions were very high coming into the game and we just never got control of that,” Knepp said. We started to in the fourth quarter and had it down to three for some time and had shots and missed four or five good wide open shots. We battled back and they never gave up. It’s an emotional night and we have four kids that have done so much for the program and it’s a night where they were honored. It’s an emotional night for them and that’s hard for a kid that age to be able to accomplish that all in one night.”
Knepp was the lone Cougar in double figures with 11 points, Smith had seven, Moore added six, Cecil scored four, and Mallett and Makayla Spears had two points each. The Cougars have two remaining home games against North Central (Farmersburg) on Monday and Eastern Green on Thursday before the sectional starts Feb. 11 at Jack Butcher Arena in Loogootee.
“When we went into the Washington game, we learned a lot about ourselves in that game,” Knepp said. “We came back to practice the next day and everybody had their head up and everybody gave max effort and we grew from that game and became a better basketball team. I fully expect us to come into practice with our heads up and go hard tomorrow and learn from our mistakes. We will go over them in film, we’ll look at them and try to improve on what we did wrong. It’s a great game to play before the sectional. If we didn’t face that kind of pressure until then it would surprise us. I’m glad we faced it now to be able to make some fixes and to get better as a team.”
Despite the loss, Knepp was able to look back at all this senior class has accomplished in four years that has seen the North Daviess program reach new heights from going to 4-17 as freshman to nine wins as sophomore’s and double digit wins in back-to-back seasons.
“It’s an amazing group of young ladies,” Knepp said. “Meghan, Sabra, Maggie and Abby — they came in as freshman and they took a lot of punishment and they never gave up and kept getting better. They would apply what they learned each night. Where they lifted this program to is amazing. Two 15-plus seasons in a row, which hadn’t been done before, a state ranking this year — I don’t ever recall a North Daviess girls team being ranked in the state, especially the entire season. It’s just an amazing group of young ladies, who are great leaders, great students and just good people.”