The way Indiana has been playing over the last month, it can do whatever it wants to do. On Monday night, the Indians wanted to beat Mount Pleasant.
That’s what they did, avenging their only loss in WPIAL Section 3-AAA play by crushing the Vikings, 50-30, in a high school girls’ basketball game at Fifth Street Gymnasium and pulling into first place in the section.
Indiana (12-3, 7-1 section) extended its winning streak to nine games and got the upper hand in the section on Mount Pleasant (9-6, 6-1), while earning coach Dave Woodall his 299th career victory. He’ll go for win No. 300 Thursday when Indiana plays host to Taylor Allderdice in a non-section game.
“We kind of had a beef with them, I guess you could say, because they beat us the first time and it’s our only section loss,” said Kaitlyn Hoff, the senior guard who scored a game-high 23 points for Indiana. “We want to win this section just as bad as they do, just as bad as anybody does. I think we want it more.”
On Dec. 16 at Mount Pleasant, Indiana fell behind 27-12 going into halftime before losing 49-45 in overtime. Since then, the Indians have gotten healthier, sharper and more confident. Behind Hoff’s 13 first-quarter points, Indiana took command early this time around, holding a 29-15 lead at the half.
“They were bound and determined they weren’t going to play that poorly again,” Woodall said. “We watched film yesterday. We watched the first half (at Mount Pleasant). I didn’t show them the good half, I showed them the bad half, and they could kind of see (what they could improve).”
Indiana and Mount Pleasant would be tied atop the section if they won the rest of their section games. The victory was huge for the Indians not only in pulling them even in the race with the Vikings, but also in seeding for the WPIAL playoffs. Teams that play well or earn key wins later in the season often get higher placement.
“That was nine games ago, so we’ve won nine in a row,” Hoff said of when Indiana previously lost. “Just like Coach said in the locker room tonight, it’s the full circle. We got beat the first time, but we answered. We’re going to continue to answer to that same loss throughout the rest of the season. We’re going to, I hope, win the rest of our games.”
“This probably gives us a leg up, in a way,” Woodall said. “Obviously, we have to win the rest of our section games, but we’re certainly capable of doing that.”
Hoff scored 13 of Indiana’s first 15 points during a 15-5 run. She asserted herself more than usual on the offensive end and got to the foul line frequently, making 10 of 15 free throws. Lucy Bujdos and Jess Stever finished with nine points each.
“I told her, this is the game for the players to stand up,” Woodall said. “If you’re a player, you need to stand up and show that you’re a player, and she certainly did. She’s such a team player that she wants to distribute the ball here and there to other people as well, but she needs to shoot the ball. She’s a great shooter and she doesn’t shoot enough. When she’s on, she’s as good as anybody.”
“I just took the open shots that I had, and they happened to fall tonight,” Hoff said. “Normally I do have those shots, and sometimes they just don’t fall and sometimes it doesn’t add up correctly. It was one of those nights when I knew I had to make them, and I was just feeling it off my fingers.”
The Indians made 10 of 20 shots in the first half. A slower-paced second half helped lower Indiana’s shooting to 37.8 percent (14 of 37) for the game.
Indiana’s calling card, though, has been defense, and the Indians made a proud Mount Pleasant team look confused and out of sorts. The Vikings shot just 20.5 percent (8 of 39) from the field. Alexa Szelong scored 14 points, but never looked comfortable, and no other Mount Pleasant player had more than six points.
“We shut them down very well,” Hoff said. “Jess Stever and Abbey Karcher did a great job on Szelong, their main scorer. She’s kind of their key, and we didn’t give her very much. They just couldn’t get into anything because we were so up and pressuring. It was just overall an in-your-face type of defense.”