HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Indiana girls stake claim to another section title
Over the past 13 seasons, every player that has come through the Indiana girls’ basketball program has been a part of a section-winning team.
Whether a college-bound star or a role player, a starter or a backup, every player who spends four years under Dave Woodall has been on a championship team, and that streak will live on for a few years to come at least.
Seeking its first section title in three years, the Indiana girls rode their signature defense on a night when the offense sputtered mightily to beat Uniontown, 49-38, and earn a share of the WPIAL Section 3-AAA title Thursday night.
The section championship is the Indians’ seventh in the past 13 seasons. Indiana hasn’t gone more than two seasons without a section title in that span, meaning every four-year player that’s come through the program since the start of the 2001-02 season has been part of at least one championship team. Seniors Kaitlyn Hoff and Holli Sottile became the latest to add their names to the list.
“We’ve been waiting for this day. We’ve been counting down the days,” Hoff said. “Ever since we beat Mount Pleasant we’ve known we had a shot at his championship and we’ve taken it one game at a time, and we knew this was the last game we had to do it. We came out and did it, and it just made this night that much more special.”
“It doesn’t get old. It’s great for the kids,” Woodall said as he watched his players cut down the net in celebration. “I think it’s been almost since 2000 that a senior hasn’t gone through and at least had one section championship. That’s pretty neat. Now these freshmen all have a section championship.
“It’s great for our seniors. They have been such model leaders for our kids. They’ve taken our freshmen under their wings. They’ve just been great leaders and wonderful people to coach. It’s an exciting moment.”
The Indians (18-3, 11-1 section) sealed the title in the same fashion they won the first 10 section games: with suffocating defense that leads to easy points in transition and quickly turns games into blowouts.
“Defense is going to carry us, and that’s what’s carried us all season,” Hoff said.
“We’re very confident that teams will have trouble scoring against us,” Woodall said. “And we know if we play defense long enough, it’s going to turn into offense for us. That’s what we like to do. We like to play defense, we like transition. We’re not a great half-court offensive team by any means.”
That certainly was the case Thursday night.
Indiana struggled to shoot at a 30 percent clip from the field, finishing the game 17-for-56 (30.4 percent), and the only quarter the Indians even approached shooting 50 percent from the floor was in the second (7-for-16), when they outscored Uniontown 20-8 to build a double-digit halftime lead.
Indiana trailed for the entirety of the first quarter until freshman guard Jessica Stever drained a 3-point field goal with 18 seconds to play to give Indiana an 11-10 lead. Utilizing their press defense to force Uniontown into five second-quarter turnovers, the Indians turned those into layups in transition to stretch their lead to 31-18 by halftime.
After falling behind 8-2 midway through the first quarter, the Indians outscored Uniontown 29-10 over the final 12 minutes of the first half.
“We played fairly well,” Woodall said. “I thought we had little spurts where we didn’t, but there is a lot of emotion on senior night. You wouldn’t think it’s a big thing, but it is. Playing for a section championship, that’s a little more pressure.”
“We just weren’t hitting anything,” Hoff said. “I wouldn’t say their defense took us by surprise, because we had a hard time with it down there (at Uniontown), so I knew that it was going to be tough when they came out in that 2-1-2 kind of half-court-trap thing, but we ended up breaking it down so we’re happy with the way it ended up.”
Indiana is allowing 34.3 points per game, the fewest among the 35 teams in WPIAL Class AAA, and it held its 11th straight opponent under 40 points.
“The kids have all bought into that, too. They all want to do their job on defense,” Woodall said. “It’s great when you get the whole team thinking defense is where it’s at. And that will help us win. We’ve had some games where we’ve really struggled offensively, but when you hold a team in the 30s in points, we’re usually going to win that game.”
Indiana maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half, and the Indians finished the third quarter on a 10-2 run to take a 43-25 lead into the final quarter.
The Indians made up for their shooting woes by getting second-chance points again and again. Indiana enjoyed a decisive 42-23 advantage in rebounds, with more than 10 of those coming on the offensive end.
Hoff made a pair of 3s and finished with a game-high 17 points, while Bujdos and Stever added 10 points apiece.
Indiana won its 15th straight game since a 49-45 setback to Mount Pleasant on Dec. 16.
Back then, after a second straight loss put the Indians at 3-3, a section championship might have seemed like a long shot for a team that was still learning its identity. But now, the Indians are a team ready to make a deep playoff run.
“With brought the new girls in and had to get used to each other,” Sottile said. “And then we became really close and worked better each game. And now we are where we are.”