Playing against the No. 4 team in all of Class 3A basketball, the Mississinewa Indians gave the Norwell Knights all they could handle.
The Indians shot the ball well from the field, particularly in the first half. Defensively, they were locked in from the start, forcing 20 Norwell giveaways to keep the contest close.
Ultimately, Mississinewa’s 30 turnovers proved to be their undoing, as their 2019-2020 campaign came to an end with a 59-55 loss to the Knights in the first Sectional 23 semifinal.
With the defeat, the Indians suffered their 17th straight sectional loss dating back to the 2002-2003 season – the last time that the program won a sectional title.
But despite the difficult conclusion to another promising year, Head Coach Laura Friday could not have been more pleased with her group’s effort against one of the top teams in the state.
“All together, we played tough,” Friday said. “I don’t think people expected that type of outcome, so I’m really proud of the girls, and I’m really proud to be their coach.”
Mississinewa got off to a promising start in the opening eight minutes, knocking down seven of their 12 shots from the field while holding the Knights to only five field goals.
While they gave the ball away six times in the quarter, the Indians’ offense quickly found their rhythm. Mia Catey, who was excellent all evening, knocked down a three to open Mississinewa’s scoring, and the two teams battled to an 11-11 tie.
A couple of quick steals in the latter stages of the frame led to a 5-0 run for the Indians, as they took a 16-11 first quarter lead. Carly Bolser scored inside to put the Indians up by two points, before Darah Watson ended the quarter with a successful three-point play.
But in the second quarter, the contest quickly shifted, and 10 turnovers from the Indians allowed the Knights to assume control.
Behind four quick Indian turnovers to start the stanza, the Knights used a 10-0 run over the first three minutes to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead. Catey was able to stop the bleeding momentarily with her fourth field goal of the game, but four more points from Norwell gave them a game-high seven point lead.
The Indians, however, proved they would not go down without a fight.
A pair of free throws from Caily Bolser and a field goal from Laekyn Emmons made it a one-possession game, and later, the Indians were able to cut the Norwell advantage to just one point on two separate occasions.
However, the Knights did not give up their lead, hitting several clutch shots in the waning moments of the first half, which included a Mackinzie Tolliver three and a buzzer-beating basket from Kiley Crow.
While the Indians’ offense found success in the first two quarters, they left a lot of points out on the floor, turning the ball over a whopping 16 times.
“We followed the gameplan as well as we could,” Friday said. “A couple less turnovers, I think it would have swung the other way for us. A couple more shots made, and the game is a different outcome.”
Norwell opened the second half with a free throw, but five straight points from Catey tied the contest up at 34-34 with 6:19 remaining in the third. The two teams locked horns from there, neither giving up an inch. On two occasions, the Knights built their advantage to five, and each time, the Indians had a response, which kept the pressure on Norwell.
Though the Indians pushed, the Knights did not buckle, forcing nine more Mississinewa turnovers and maintaining their lead throughout the rest of the frame. Catey tied the game again at 44-44 later in the quarter, but the Knights ended the frame on a 5-0 run, giving them a 49-44 advantage.
With the game still within reach, the Indians’ offense struggled in the final frame, knocking down just four field goals in 16 attempts. The Knights took advantage, building a game-high eight-point lead with 2:44 remaining and holding that advantage the rest of the way.
In her final game as an Indian, Caily Bolser left everything out on the court. After missing most of the season with a broken wrist, the Toledo University commit was tremendous throughout the contest, leading the Indians with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Catey, who showed exponential growth throughout the course of the campaign, was second on the team with 16 points and seven boards. Riley McKee added nine points in her final showing.
“That was a huge key for us,” Friday said. “Even though we had Caily back there, we weren’t just going to force it into her. We needed to make sure we had multiple people trying to [score in] double figures. We [executed] our offensive gameplan really well.”
Though their season resulted in another early playoff exit, the senior trio of Bolser, McKee, and Emmons helped lay the foundation of what could be a stellar program in the years to come. With their steady presence and leadership on and off the court, they helped to establish a culture – one that has permeated all facets of their practice, their play, and most importantly, their lives.
“They really believed in what I wanted to do,” Friday said. “They believed in what we were doing the last three years, and they put our program on the map, truthfully. They made sure we were doing everything that we needed to do. They were great leaders. I’m just really proud of them, and I’m so glad and so thankful to be able to coach those three.”
And while all three of those aforementioned girls will be tough to replace, the Indians have a strong core in place for the next several seasons, and Coach Friday cannot wait to get back to work for next season.
“We are looking forward to getting [back at it] in the summertime,” Friday said. “We’ve got a strong sophomore group and we’ve got a strong junior group. I’m so excited to get to next year as well.”