High-pressure Trojans smother Jeep reign

Photos by Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Northeast Dubois senior Taylor Bauer hugged teammate Emily Lueken (21) after the Jeeps fell 62-57 in overtime to Wood Memorial in Saturday’s Class 1A sectional championship at Oakland City. The Jeeps led by 13 points in the fourth quarter before the Trojans stormed back and halted Northeast Dubois’ run of 11 consecutive sectional titles. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

OAKLAND CITY — It all felt so odd.

The retreat to the locker room immediately after the sectional championship, the token basketball instead of wooden hardware, the reality that this time, there wasn’t enough magic to keep the sectional party going.

The Northeast Dubois girls basketball team was also accustomed to larger spaces, but after trudging out of the locker room following Saturday’s Class 1A sectional championship, the Jeeps exchanged hugs and managed smiles with friends and family in a small corner from beyond the baseline of the floor. The celebration was reserved for the court just feet away, where Wood Memorial extinguished the state’s lengthiest active sectional streak and did so with a dizzying comeback that left the dazed Jeeps wondering what went wrong in a 62-57 overtime defeat.

Northeast Dubois expected another championship — partly because the Jeeps had done so 11 straight years without fail and led Saturday’s final by 13 points with less than six remaining in regulation. And partly because the Jeeps thought they’d nailed a sectional-winning prayer when Emily Lueken barreled the length of the court and swished a running 25-footer to end regulation, only to have the highlight waved off by officials.

Minutes later, it happened. The streak was over. Officially done at 11. The Jeeps were tantalizingly close to No. 12, though coach Alan Matheis had to step back and marvel about more than a decade of uninterrupted tournament fun.

“I think any team is pretty fortunate to run up a streak like that. And everybody is looking to keep it going. That’s kind of tough to do,” Matheis said. “For a school like us, in a sense that we don’t have a whole lot of numbers to pick from all the time, for us to come out year after year with a very competitive basketball team is a pretty good thing for us. It’s a credit to our girls and our parents and our support system. A lot of schools, sure, they’ll have one or two good years, and then they might not be good for a couple years.

“In those 11 years, there was four or five times we could have gotten beat, because there was teams in those tournaments that were probably better than us. We had some overtime games, we had some close games. Sooner or later, it was probably going to happen, but you always hate for it to happen. But inevitably, it’s going to happen.”

It’s just that Northeast Dubois (14-8) never saw it ending the way it did.

The Jeeps assumed a 49-36 advantage when Morgan Seng scored with 5:49 left in regulation. From there, Northeast Dubois didn’t notch another field goal until 37 seconds remained in overtime.

After a dodgy spell to open the game, the Jeeps seemed to have solved Wood Memorial’s pushy pressure and trumped the traps by working the ball inside for prime looks for Seng (11 points) as well as Rachel Breitwieser, who notched 12 points after a 20-point 14-rebound game earlier Saturday in a 65-23 semifinal thumping of Cannelton (3-16). But at the tail end of regulation, the Trojans’ trapping and bumping robbed the Jeeps from all semblance of order.

“That press definitely scared us, I think, a little bit and our passes started getting a little lighter and I think we were just freaking out,” said Lueken, who recorded 18 points and five assists. “We weren’t taking our time, making our good passes — and then when we got over half court, taking good shots.”

Haley Kinder faced the defense of Rachel Wilkins as the Jeep senior logged six points, 10 rebounds and six assists in her final game.

From down 13, Wood Memorial (14-9) assembled a 22-3 spurt. Packed amid that stretch were turnover after turnover — nine of them in a span of 17 Jeep possessions. The Trojans instigated 23 Northeast Dubois miscues on the night, and Wood Memorial coach Johnnie Bartley indicated his team needed a little extra oomph to unsettle a team of the Jeeps’ seasoned status.

“You don’t expect a team like that that’s had that much success (to struggle at the end); they’re used to being here and playing those big games,” Bartley said. “But when you knock down a couple shots ... it starts to creep in the back of their mind, ”˜Oh no, maybe we might actually lose one.’ Who knows?”

For a few seconds to finish regulation, though, the Jeeps were sure they won it. And Lueken was convinced they should have.

Lueken hit a free throw to tie it at 52 with 24.3 seconds left, and the Trojans turned it over on a traveling violation while looking for the last shot. With 4.9 seconds on the clock, Lueken sped up the floor to just right of the top of the key and pushed a one-handed try that rainbowed cleanly through the net.

But referees immediately waved off the shot despite vociferous protests from the Jeep crowd as well as Matheis, who said “anybody can run the court in five seconds” and have enough daylight to squeeze off a shot before the buzzer.

“I thought I got it off until I turned around and (the official) was calling it no (good),” Lueken said.

Wood Memorial never trailed in overtime, and it may have been the official proclamation that the Trojans could be the new queen of the sectional for years to come. Their 10-player rotation includes seven freshmen, including guards Carsen Robinson and Chloe Bartley who poured in 22 and 16 points, respectively.

Youth trumped the experience, though Matheis assured his girls “there’s no reason for them to feel bad about this basketball season just because they weren’t able to get this one last victory here.”

When it came to Matheis’ requisites — improving through the season and achieving team harmony chief among them — the Jeep coach graded this year’s group a success. Haley Kinder (10 rebounds, six assists), Talia Terwiske and Taylor Bauer joined fellow seniors Lueken and Breitwieser in furthering the Jeep legacy. They captured three sectionals and matched powerful Fort Wayne Canterbury blow for blow in a 2012 state runner-up effort. For Lueken, the more enduring memory will be the time spent with all the people who made all the wins possible.

“Freshman year and sophomore year and junior year were the best, and there’s nothing like being a senior and being that leader on the court and just showing everybody what we can do. And I’m really grateful to have such great teammates this year, and I’m going to miss them very much,” Lueken said.

“I don’t know if we were too worried about the streak and all, but that doesn’t bother me too much, because as long as we played our game and we had fun, I mean, no regrets.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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