With the end of the regular season rapidly approaching, the Mississinewa Indians are turning the corner at the right time.
Against defending Class 2A State Runner-Up and conference foe Frankton on Tuesday night, the Indians played with poise and an air of relaxation in the first two quarters, enabling their toe-to-toe performance with one of the top teams in the state.
However, despite a hard-fought, valiant effort, a stout performance from Frankton center Chloee Thomas, and a strong second half from the Eagles as a whole, made the difference in the Indians’ 62-39 loss.
“Our goal was to make sure we competed the whole time, and we did that,” Mississinewa Head Coach Laura Friday said. “We kind of let down a little bit on our defense in the third quarter and we get down about that, but that was probably the best first half of a game that we played all year.
“We [only] had 13 turnovers, one of our lowest of the season. They only got seven offensive rebounds. Those are great stats for us. Against a Class 2A state championship contender, we played well, and I’m proud of how the girls played.”
Mia Catey, who led the Indians with 17 points, played aggressive on the offensive end all evening, scoring in a variety of ways and doing so with confidence.
Alayna Webb finished with 13 points, all while playing excellent defense throughout the contest.
And Kate Ramey, thrust into the starting lineup due to injury, was tenacious on the glass, finishing as the team’s leading rebounder with nine to go along with five points.
Players are settling into their own unique roles, and it has been a major part of the Indians’ recent success.
“Everyone is getting more comfortable,” Friday said. “I think the girls are playing free. We knew at the beginning of the season as adversity started to hit, we just wanted to be better by the end of the year for sectionals. I think we are accepting that challenge, and I think every single day, we have gotten better. I’m excited about where we are at right now.”
However, while the Indians’ performance was encouraging, Thomas’ performance was even better.
Mississinewa, despite their best efforts, were unable to keep Frankton’s star center under wraps. Thomas led all scorers with 23 points, shooting 11-of-12 from the field, with all her attempts coming from underneath the basket.
While Ramey, Catey, and others did their best to limit her effectiveness, Thomas knocked down her first 11 shots of the contests, with her lone miss coming in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have an answer for her,” Friday said of Thomas. “Tonight, they saw the disadvantage with our height, and they took advantage of it.”
Mississinewa led throughout most of the first half, using a combination of efficient offense and determined defense to build their advantage. The Indians took a 12-10 lead after the first quarter, before increasing that advantage to 18-12 with 6:10 to play before halftime.
However, from that moment on, the Eagles slowly turned the momentum in their favor, outscoring Mississinewa 12-3 the rest of the way to turn their six-point deficit into a three-point lead – one they would not relinquish.
After scoring nine points in the second quarter, including Frankton’s final six points, Thomas scored eight more in the third as the Eagles assumed full control. Frankton outscored the Indians 38-16 in the second half, shooting 14-of-26 from the field in the process.
Along with Thomas’ 26 points, Bailee Webb scored 13 points, nine of which came in the fourth, while Ava Gardner added nine.
Despite the final result, Friday was proud of how her team battled from the opening tip to the final whistle. With the girls basketball tournament beginning next week, she hopes, and believes, that the Indians will continue to trend upward.
“The first half of this game, that’s how we want to play every single quarter and every single game,” Friday said. “I think the girls are starting to understand the type of effort they need to put out to get wins and to make sure we compete with everyone. I think we are in a great spot with sectionals coming up.”