NEW MARKET - The University High School girls basketball team out of Carmel came into Saturday's Class 2A Regional 11 at Southmont High School the only unranked squad in the field of four.
The Trailblazers certainly proved that rankings mean nothing when it comes to IHSAA tournament play, as they defeated No. 5 Triton Central 54-50 in Saturday's first semifinal game and then dispatched No. 9 South Putnam 51-43 in Saturday night's championship contest to win the regional title.
After both wins, University improved to 12-3 and now gets the opportunity to play No. 1 and defending state champion Linton-Stockton in this coming Saturday's 2A southern semi-state championship game at Jasper High School.
The Tigers saw their fine season come to a close and bowed out of the tournament with a 20-4 record.
It was a bitter pill for Triton Central, as it was trying for a repeat regional title. The Tigers didn't play poorly in any phase of the game. They just didn't play well enough to beat University on this day.
If there was one parameter for Triton Central that was sub-par, it might have been field goal shooting. The Tigers hit just 20-of-49 shots from the floor (40.8 percent) to go along with 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line.
"We missed some shots we normally hit," Triton Central Head Coach Bryan Graham remarked afterward, "and they (Trailblazers) hit some big shots. Hats off to them."
The Trailblazers actually were a little worse in their field goal shooting accuracy, 19-of-48 (39.6 percent), but they made up for that by hitting 13-of-18 (72.2 percent) from the charity stripe. Those seven more made free throws proved to be the difference in the contest.
Triton Central fell behind 4-0 and 6-2 early in the first quarter, but managed to come back and grab a 10-8 advantage on a Bailey Stamper basket with 3:50 left in the opening period.
It was nip-and-tuck the remainder of the first frame, and the two teams were tied 15-15 after one.
Four Tigers scored in the opening stanza, led by five points from Taylor Heath and four from Stamper. Five University players got in the scoring column in the opening eight minutes, led by Payton Seay with six points.
Much the same thing occurred in the second quarter as the two teams fought tooth-and-nail. Neither squad could gain more than a three-point advantage until Heath buried a pair of free throws 1:04 before halftime to give Triton Central a 29-24 lead.
Trailblazer sophomore Kamryn Washington hit a bucket 21 seconds before the halftime horn, and the Tigers led 29-26 at intermission.
Stamper led Triton Central in scoring in the second period with eight points, while Washington and Seay had four points apiece for University.
A Stamper basket 13 seconds into the third quarter restored a five-point lead to the Tigers, 31-26.
Triton Central's Kenzie Ryle drained a trey and Heath hit a basket that were countered by buckets from Seay and Washington, and the Tigers had a six-point lead, 36-30, with 6:35 remaining in the period.
But the Trailblazers started whittling away at their deficit, and actually outscored Triton Central 12-4 over the next 5:45, grabbing a 42-40 advantage on a Sierra Hinds trey with 50 seconds left in the third frame.
Another Stamper bucket 10 seconds later deadlocked the game 42-42 after three.
The game stayed tight in the fourth quarter. A traditional three-point play by Heath with 5:52 in the period gave the Tigers a 47-44 lead.
University then got a Seay basket plus two free throws and a bucket from 6-0 sophomore Kelsey Dubois, which were answered by just a single charity toss from Stamper, and the Trailblazers took a 50-48 lead with 2:15 left in the contest.
Stamper hit her final basket of the game with 1:40 remaining for a 50-50 tie.
Tension mounted as the game entered its final minute. Seay hit a bucket and was fouled with 33.7 seconds left. She missed the free throw, but the Tigers committed a turnover at the other end.
Dubois was fouled at the 17.7-second mark and hit both charity tosses for a 54-50 University lead.
Triton Central couldn't get another shot to fall through the hoop, and the clock ran out on its season.
"We usually take pretty good care of the basketball," Coach Graham said, "but five turnovers in the fourth quarter killed us. They (Trailblazers) are a good defensive team and tried to make us go faster than we wanted, but we still can't get rattled in those situations."
As befits such a tight game, there wasn't much difference between the two teams in rebounding and turnovers.
The Tigers won the battle of the boards by a narrow 31-30 margin and committed 13 turnovers compared to 12 for the Trailblazers.
For University, Seay had 20 points and four rebounds, Dubois 12 points and nine boards, Hinds nine points, Washington eight points and six rebounds, and Jordan Patterson scored five points and corralled six caroms.
For Triton Central, Stamper had 21 points and nine rebounds, Heath 13 points and four boards, Ryle six points, Jenna Cox three points and four rebounds, Maddy Brown three points, Elizabeth Graham two points and six boards, and Hallie Schweitzer two points.
The Tiger basketball program says goodbye to seniors Stamper, Heath, Ryle, Morgan Shilling, and Tenleigh Phelps.
"We'll miss our seniors," Coach Graham added, "but our program is in good shape, we are able to reload rather than rebuild, and I'm looking forward to what next season holds for us."
University 54, Triton Central 50
TRITON CENTRAL (50)
Heath 4-15 4-5 13, Graham 1-7 0-0 2, Ryle 2-5 0-0 6, Stamper 10-17 1-2 21, Cox 1-3 0-0 3, Schweitzer 1-1 0-0 2, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, M. Brown 1-1 1-2 3. Totals: 20-49 6-9 50.
Dubois 3-13 6-6 12, Hinds 3-13 0-0 9, Washington 2-4 4-4 8, Seay 9-13 2-6 20, Patterson 2-5 1-2 5, Hannon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-48 13-18 54.
3-point goals – Triton Central 4 (Ryle 2, Heath, Cox), University 3 (Hinds 3). Rebounds – Triton Central 31 (Stamper 9, Graham 6, Heath 4, Cox 4), University 30 (Dubois 9, Washington 6, Patterson 6, Seay 4). Total fouls – Triton Central 14, University 11. Turnovers – Triton Central 13, University 12. Records – Triton Central 20-4, University 11-3.