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While the North Harrison Lady Cats came up six points short, 51-45, in the Class 3A state championship against Heritage Christian, they still had plenty of reason to smile, finishing the season with a 28-3 record and earning the runner-up trophy. It was the Lady Cats' first visit to the state finals. Photos by Wade Bell

Lady Cats fall, but leave Goliath bruised

March 02, 2016
The North Harrison Lady Cats brought their big blue ocean to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Saturday night in hopes of taking home their first state championship. Almost 2,000 people, some in their old school jackets, many in their blue-and-white war paint, and the rest wearing some sort of blue in one way or another, showed up in support. There were even some from rival schools who put on blue in support of the Lady Cats.

But this story is not about the deep blue sea. This is about David and Goliath. North Harrison was taking on Class 3A No. 2 Heritage Christian, who already had six state championships under its belt. For the Lady Cats, it was their first appearance at the state final, and they weren't given much of a chance. North Harrison, given less than a 10-percent chance of even reaching the final, was a 20-point underdog in the eyes of many.

Senior Carlie Burson takes the ball up against Heritage Christian's Hannah Williams in the second half.
But you can't judge a team by just looking at numbers on a piece of paper. You have to play the game.

"I went home and told the kids after I came back from media day that I kind of came back saying this was David and Goliath," North Harrison coach Missy Voyles said. "I personally said, 'I think you're a little better than that. I think this is a game you can win.' I never go in to a game thinking I'm going to lose. When you start going in thinking you're going to lose, you should probably quit coaching. We went into it saying, 'Yeah, they've got a really good team,' and they do. They have some fantastic athletes, probably better athletes than what we've seen all year, but I think I have a pretty good group myself."

That pretty good group got a little downtime and shooting in before the game in a place of history.

"We went to Hinkle (Fieldhouse at Butler University) and took a lot of selfies and did some shooting and went to eat," a smiling Voyles said.

It then came time for the real battle. Heritage Christian's Tyasha Harris began the game with a long three to give the Lady Eagles, a 3-0 lead. If that was meant to scare the Lady Cats, it didn't work, as North Harrison answered each Lady Eagle shot through the first media timeout at 3:36.

Moments later, Jourdan McAfee scored to put North Harrison in front by one. Stevi Burns later added a deuce-and-one, and the Lady Cats' advantage rose to four. Harris finished the period with a deuce-and-one, but North Harrison still held an 11-10 edge with three quarters to go.

The Lady Eagles scored the first six points of the second quarter, and, at the 5:55 mark, Burns rolled an ankle and had to be helped off the floor. Taylor Rennirt hit the free throw for Burns, but seconds later, Rennirt, who already had been whistled for three fouls, was hit with her fourth foul and was forced to take a place on the bench. Harris sank one of the two freebies. Following a deuce by Katlytn Gilbert, the Lady Eagles' lead suddenly ballooned to nine, 21-12.

McAfee sank two Lady Cat free throws, but that was countered by a Sydney Buis three-ball. Lilly Hatton hit a jumper for the Lady Cats, but that too was negated by the Lady Eagles, as DaShawna Harper sank a three for a 27-16 Heritage Christian lead.

The two teams traded points at the end of the half, and North Harrison went to the break down 11, 29-18.

North Harrison sophomore Hallie Hinton said she knew she was going to have to pick up her game when Rennirt was hit with her fourth foul.

"I knew I needed to step up and handle the ball, because we didn't really have anyone else," she said. "It's hard putting our freshman, Savana Rhodes, out there and putting that pressure on her. So, I did what I needed to do. I knew I had to, because I knew we were going to let the game go away if I didn't."

"We yelled for a little while about the things they weren't doing," Voyles said of the halftime talk. "We spent most of our time focusing on what we needed to do. We don't get too fired up most of the time. We spend most of our time saying, 'What's going to work for you?' We spent more time saying, 'What's going to make you more comfortable? What offense are you comfortable with. We'll run with what makes you comfortable at this point.' We kind of hashed it out at what we'd come out the second half and do."

Hatton gave the Lady Cats a pair of free throws to start the second half then later made a defensive block to force a Lady Eagles turnover. Moments later, she got another block as she found her timing. North Harrison, however, was unable to convert, and Harris scored for a 31-20 Lady Eagles lead.

North Harrison coach Missy Voyles leads the Lady Cats through a line of adoring fans outside North Harrison Elementary Friday morning during a send-off ceremony for the team, who headed to Morgan Elementary from there and then on to Indianapolis to practice for the state championship, held the next day. Photo By Ross Schulz
Hatton then woke up the North Harrison side of the fieldhouse with a three-ball from behind the NBA three-point arc. Teammate Carlie Burson followed with a deuce. Gilbert scored two for the Lady Eagles, but Burson quickly countered. North Harrison scored the next six points, including an inside deuce from Hatton to tie the game at 33 and forcing Heritage Christian to call timeout.

"We talked about quit trying to take the entry pass when (Harper) is playing defense," Voyles said. "Take the ball away from her. She was doing a really good job of covering that up. We looked for mismatches. We were looking to do a little more entry pass off the dribble and a little more off the pick, instead of making just a leading pass."

Burns put North Harrison back in front with a pair of freebies. Hatton blocked two more Lady Eagles shots, but Foresman sank a long deuce to tie the game at 35 at the end of the quarter.

"(Foresman) is a great player, and we're going to see a lot of great players next year as we, hopefully, continue this tourney again," Hatton said. "It was just about focusing and knowing what I needed to do to be there for my team."

Harris got the first two points of the fourth quarter, but Burns countered for the Lady Cats. With 5:13 to go, Heritage Christian called timeout again.

Harris and Foresman then took the ball inside for a 43-39 Lady Eagles advantage. Both teams missed their next shots, then Burson was called for her second foul. Harris sank both freebies for a 44-39 edge.

At that point, the Lady Eagles spread the floor. Hatton got another block, but the Lady Cats turned over the ball. Harper sank a deuce in the paint, and the Heritage Christian lead jumped to eight.

Hinton kept the Lady Cats' hopes up with a three, pulling North Harrison to within five, 47-42, but Harris countered with a deuce. Rennirt answered with a freebie, but time was running out on the clock, as the Lady Eagles got the 51-45 win to take home the trophy.

"I couldn't be more proud of these girls," Voyles said. "I thought they rebounded extremely well. I thought they defended well. We pulled together in the third quarter and fought back like we have all year. I think they proved they were not a 20-point underdog like I think they were predicted to be."

Hatton led North Harrison with 11 points and seven rebounds. She also recorded eight blocks to tie the state final record. Burson finished with 10 points and five boards, and Hinton had five rebounds. North Harrison shot 15 of 42 (36 percent) from the field and 13 of 15 from the free-throw line, while turning over the ball 23 times.

"It was intense, but we stayed focused on our goal," Hatton said. "We knew we were doing this for our community and for ourselves. Just the high-fives at school and you walk down the hall and someone will say, 'Hey, you all are going to state! What's that like?' You felt the entire community behind you. It was awesome to have that support."

"It's been amazing," Hinton added. "Last year, as freshmen, we got beat in the championship in sectional and we promised ourselves we weren't going to do that again. We worked very hard all through summer and the off-season, and we came here."

Harris led Heritage Christian with 27 points, hit eight of nine free throws and had seven steals. Harper followed with 10 points and seven steals, and Gilbert added 11 boards. The 19 team steals for Heritage Christian tied a state final record. The Lady Eagles made 10 of 11 free throws and 19 of 54 shots from the field (35 percent), while committing 12 turnovers.

The Lady Eagles won the points in the paint, 28-18, and points off turnovers, 21-8, battles. North Harrison got more second-chance points, 14-6, but the Lady Eagles did better on transition, outscoring North Harrison 16-2.

"(Harris is) everything I was told she was," Voyles said. "She does a great job of getting to the rim when they need her to. She distributes the ball when they need other people involved. Then, when it comes down to crunch time, she wanted the ball in her hands, and she finished."

North Harrison's Burson was honored with the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award immediately after the game, with a $1,000 scholarship being awarded to the school.

"Carlie is an outstanding young woman on and off the basketball court and in the classroom," Voyles said of her senior. "She is a leader wherever you put her, whether it's just trying to get everybody out on the court on time, get who's supposed to be mopping to be mopping, or who's got to get the balls out. She's really good at leading by example. She shows up when you need her there. She got a little more vocal as the season went on this year and trying to be more of a leader on the court. She's just an outstanding young lady."

As for the ocean of blue, Voyles said the experience has had a major positive impact on the community as a whole and she hopes it continues.

"This has really been great for our community," she said. "Everybody is so excited about it. Just the (send-off) trek through the buildings (on Friday) and all the little kids and their signs and screaming and wanting to give everybody a high-five. Our youth league kids, who are now looking at these kids like they're celebrities; it has been fantastic for our community

"It is what I want to see back in our gym. It's what used to be there when I was a student there in high school, and just this spirit that it's created, I hope that continues, I hope it sustains. I hope we come back in November, not just in girls' basketball, but overall, that this community starts pulling together and really supporting our athletes and our students."

Heritage Christian 10 19 6 16 - 51

North Harrison 11 7 17 10 - 45

Heritage Christian - Gilbert 8, Harper 10, Foresman 6, Harris 27

North Harrison - Rennirt 4, Burson 10, Hatton 11, Hinton 5, Burns 9, McAfee 6

3-pointers - Harper 2, Harris, Hatton, Hinton

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