For the second straight night, a Madison County school repeated regular season success against a conference rival, although the result was much tougher to come by on Night 2.
Junior Jacelyn Starks scored nine of her game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to help Anderson hold off a feisty Muncie Central Bearcats team 63-52 and advance to Friday’s semifinal round.
The Indians join Pendleton Heights in the semifinals after the Arabians advanced with a 57-20 win over Greenfield-Central on Tuesday night.
In December, Anderson (8-14) routed its North Central Conference rivals, winning by 35 points thanks to an unusually hot shooting night from 3-point range. Wednesday’s win was a much more gritty effort.
“I was a little concerned,” Anderson coach Joe Adams said. “The first time we played, we hit a lot of threes — I think about eight or nine — usually we only hit three or four. I didn’t feel confident that we could shoot it like that again.”
This time around, the Bearcats stayed close thanks to a 54-36 rebounding edge — including 28 offensive rebounds — and a herculean effort from Gabby Douglass. The Muncie Central guard lit up the Indians with 25 points and added nine rebounds and four assists.
“She’s so good,” Adams said. “Not only is she quick, she’s physical. She wants to get hit, go through the contact and finish. We tried everything, man-to-man, a 3-2 (zone), a 4-1 (zone) because she’s so athletic.”
The Indians took a 10-point advantage into the locker room after Kennedy Brown buried a 3-point basket at the buzzer. But the Bearcats responded with a 14-4 run to open the second half and tied the game at 38-38 on a pair of free throws from Victoria Hardnett.
But the long-range shooting which had been largely absent much of the night for Anderson provided a much-needed answer. First Starks sank one 3-pointer, and — following one of 23 Bearcat turnovers — Zoe Allen drilled one from behind the arc.
After a Central basket, Starks capped the third quarter with another 3-pointer to send Anderson to the fourth period with a 47-40 lead.
The Bearcats got no closer than five points the rest of the way.
“She hit some big shots down the stretch and some free throws,” Adams said. “When we needed to separate ourselves a little bit, she got us some buckets and made some plays that helped us separate.”
When Central (5-17) did pull within five at 57-52, it was Starks coming up with the answer in the form of a steal and a runner in the lane. Makhile McWilliams — who scored 15 points for Anderson — scored twice in transition to close out the scoring.
McWilliams led Anderson with eight rebounds and matched Allen for team honors with four assists. Brown finished with eight points, and Talaysha Simonds added six points and three steals.
Katie White and Hardnett finished with eight points each while Gianalis Caraballo led all players with 12 rebounds for Muncie Central.
Anderson has now beaten its NCC rivals in nine of the last 10 meetings and has knocked the Bearcats out of the postseason tournament in three of the last four seasons.
It was also the first postseason win for Adams, who had been winless in three previous sectionals with Franklin County.
“It feels good to finally get that,” he said. “There’s no easy sectional win. This is always a tough one. We lost some close ones (at Franklin County), so it feels good to get this one.”
The Indians will meet New Palestine (12-11) in Friday’s second semifinal following the Arabians 6 p.m. meeting with the host Mount Vernon Marauders. The Dragons defeated Richmond 45-27 in the first game Wednesday evening.
The winners of Friday’s games will face off Saturday at 7:30 p.m. for the sectional championship.
This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.