Confident Patriots take pride in their defenseJanuary 27, 2019
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
Throughout the season, the Heritage Hills girls basketball team has stymied its opponents with its tenacity and toughness on the defensive edge. In fact, the Patriots’ defensive average of 35.85 points given up a game ranks as second best in Class 3A, only behind No. 2 ranked Mishawaka Marian.
If you ask the players what the biggest surprise has been about their 17-5 season, it seems defense is the most common answer for the Patriots who open their sectional on Friday in Fort Branch at 8 p.m. EST awaiting the winner of Gibson Southern (20-3) and Evansville Bosse (7-12).
“I didn’t realize that our defensive pressure was going to be so aggressive this season,” said senior guard Claire Heckel. “It’s definitely helped us out in the long run.”
However, head coach Kim Brown isn’t surprised at all by how well the Patriots have performed defensively this season. In fact, a hard-nosed defense is what is expected from Heritage Hills basketball.
“That’s what I expect of them. They might be a little surprised by how well they can play defense,” Brown said. “Honestly, I’m still not to the point where I think we’re consistently dominant on defense as we need to be, but we’re improving every game, so that’s a good thing. I’m glad the team is buying into our defensive effort.”
If there’s anything that has surprised Brown about the Patriots’ season this year, it’s the amount of confidence they entered the 2018-19 campaign with.
After graduating five seniors from last season’s 17-4 team, including three of their leading scorers in Abby Wahl, Kate Kaetzel and Kerragan Mulzer, the Patriots were going to be entering the year with several fresh faces and players who didn’t receive a ton of varsity playing time last season. But the Pats have conquered many of these challenges head on, as they’ve compiled a 17-5 season that included a nine-game winning streak and wins over tough teams such as Washington and Evansville North.
“After a really good season last year, these girls came in with a lot of confidence that they could get something done, and they’ve followed through to get it done,” Brown said. “We had a spell where we lost three games in a row that we thought we shouldn’t have, but they bounced back. Their resilience has been surprising to me.”
Heckel added: “We knew that last year’s group of seniors were really good, and we thought coming back this year that we might not be as good. But we’ve actually proved ourselves wrong.”
The Patriots have been led by a variety of different players on the offensive end, including freshman Hadley Lytton (9.6 points per game) and sophomore Avery Neff (6.3 points per game), but the one player who many teams have tried to key in on is sophomore forward Rebekah Gordon.
Gordon is currently averaging 16.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game, and has already racked up seven double-doubles this season. After being thrown into the starting lineup as a freshman last season, she says she’s picked up right where she left off last season (averaged 8.2 points, 5.9 rebounds), but with a lot more confidence.
“I think last year helped me get the jitters out and understand the varsity level,” Gordon said. “It’s helped me to become a better leader physically and vocally on the court.”
Last year didn’t end the way the Patriots hoped it would, as they were shockingly defeated in the first round of the sectional by an 8-15 Mount Vernon team. This year, Heritage Hills will have a bye and await the winner of Gibson Southern and Evansville Bosse.
The Titans ended the Patriots’ nine-game winning streak and undefeated home record earlier this season, so a rematch could potentially be a tough challenge for Heritage Hills. No matter what happens, though, the Pats are hoping to use the experience from last year’s tough defeat to help them in this year’s postseason run.
“I know they don’t want that to happen again. I don’t think we look at any game as a ‘gimme’,” Brown said. “Every game we go into is somebody that we’re going to have to fight for a win, so they’re not taking anything for granted.”
Gordon added: “[Last year] helps us get a better vision on how we should focus in the sectional and how we need to see our opponents. We can’t just expect a win right off the bat.”
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