By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Lady Indians advanced to the championship game of the 11th Region Tournament for the fourth year in a row with a 55-48 victory over Dunbar Saturday in McBrayer Arena.
The win avenges a stinging loss to the Lady Bulldogs in last year’s championship game and moves the Lady Indians one win away from their second trip to the Sweet 16 in three years.
Larryn Brooks led all scorers with 29 points. She also had six rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Ashton Feldhaus finished with 12 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and two blocked shots, while Shadae Bosley had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks and Heather Hinkle had six big points, four of which came in the game’s final four minutes that helped seal the Central win.
“All five kids played very well tonight,” Central Coach Robbie Cooksey said. “Everybody has been talking all week about (how) we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to get other kids to score. When it comes down to it, we are going to put five players on the court who want to play with each other for 32 minutes and they want to play hard and they want to win and that is what we are doing.”
Dunbar defeated the Lady Indians on Feb. 15 in Richmond in a game in which the Lady Bulldog guards repeatedly found open driving lanes to the basket for shots or to dish off to teammates.
On Saturday, the Lady Indian defenders sent a message early that it wasn’t going to be as easy this time around.
Bailey O’Bryan set the tone for the Central defense in the first two minutes of the game when she stopped drives by Dunbar point guard Jordin Fender several times, which helped Central jump out to an early 10-5 lead.
“Bailey had a heck of a game. I told them, sometimes you fill the stat-lines up with stuff that you don’t see. There is not always numbers there. But Bailey had a wonderful, wonderful game,” Cooksey said. “Heather hit a huge runner late and those two free throws were big. Shadae stepped up. We got some drives and some penetrations and some kicks to her and she put them in and she was 2-for-2 from the line. Every kid played well. We did what we had to do to win the game and it was a total team effort.”
Central led 10-9 after one quarter and was up 13-9 after a Feldhaus three pointer, but Dunbar, as it did all game, quickly responded with a three pointer by Shakeema Jackson, one of five she hit on the night.
The lead then changed hands four times over the next 1:20 seconds.
Central eased ahead 26-23 at the half on a basket by Hinkle and two baskets by Feldhaus.
Brooks gave Central its biggest lead of the game with a three-point play to open the third quarter, but Dunbar then went on a 9-0 run to take a 32-29 lead with 5:33 to go.
At that point, Bosley went to war, scoring Central’s next six points to push the Lady Indians back in front 35-34 with 2:53 left in the quarter.
After four consecutive lead changes, Brooks nailed a three pointer with seven seconds left to give the Lady Indians a 40-39 lead after three quarters.
Lakeena Parks quickly gave Dunbar its last lead of the game at 41-40 with a turn-around jumpshot on the first possession of the fourth quarter.
A Brooks three pointer and basket sandwiched around a Dunbar free throw put Central on top 45-42 with 4:49 left.
Parks cut the lead to two but Hinkle hit a running shot in the lane to push the lead back to three at 47-44 with 4:15 left.
Parks once again cut the Central lead to one, but Brooks and Hinkle answered for Central, giving the Lady Indians a 51-46 lead with 2:07 to go.
The Central defense then rose to the occasion and held Dunbar without a point until Kierra Muhammad hit a basket with 42 seconds left to pull Dunbar to within 51-48.
With Dunbar forced to foul, Feldhaus and Brooks combined for four free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Following Thursday’s win over Scott County, Cooksey said his team would need to shoot much better to beat Dunbar.
The Lady Indians responded to the challenge on Saturday.
Central finished the game shooting 46.3 percent from the field, including 36.4 percent from behind the three-point line. The Lady Indians were also 13-of-16 from the free throw line for 81.3 percent.
“We told them it would take better than the 62 percent we shot (from the line) the other day and take better than 32 percent (from the field) and we went out and shot 81 percent and 43 percent. Every kid did what they had to do to win the game. It was a total team effort,” Cooksey said. “We knew it was going to be a tight game. It’s the 11th Region. There are not going to be any blowouts. We knew it was going to take free throws. We knew it was going to take stops and we took care of it.”
With the girls state tournament being played after the boys tournament this year, the championship game won’t be played until Tuesday.
Cooksey said the extra days rest are big for his team right now.
“It’s a huge deal for us to get two nights rest. If we were having to play tomorrow night I would be really concerned,” Cooksey said. “Tonight our kids can get a good night’s rest. We can come back and practice tomorrow, then can practice on Monday. It really helps.”