Lady Lions upset North Harrison in OT thriller, host Paoli Tuesday

By: 
Josh Lewis, Sports Writer

2015. That was the last time a Mid Southern Conference opponent beat North Harrison when Salem beat them to claim the sectional championship. From there the Lady Cougars had their way with everybody in the MSC for three straight seasons, winning 37 straight games over conference opponents, and looked to try again for a fourth straight year. But Salem had other ideas.

Thursday night had all the hype surrounding a heavy weight fight like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, and this game certainly lived up to that billing. Salem knew their only hope of winning the MSC went through North Harrison and their Miss Basketball candidate Lilly Hatton. And the Lions were up to the task. Salem and North Harrison duked it out in an overtime thriller that had Salem snap North Harrison’s 31 game conference winning streak with a 53-45 win.

Salem Head Coach Jerry Hickey said it was a good game for his team and gives them a great chance to win the MSC. “This was a great game. We knew what they were. Their seniors have never lost a conference game. They have already been through the grind of their schedule conference wise. We knew if we didn’t hang a loss on them they probably wouldn’t get a loss this year. It feels great. It’s put us in a spot to make a run at the conference. We still have some tough games, but that’s a pretty good start.”

It wasn’t the greatest of starts for the Lions as they trailed 6-0 early, and missed several short shots around the basket.  Just as Salem was beginning to make a run at possibly taking the lead Leah Miller picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench midway through the first.  A couple of scores from Karly Sweeney kept Salem hanging around though headed into the second.

Natalie Noel came off the bench to replace Miller in the lineup and not only helped Salem stay afloat but helped them to make a dent in the Lady Cougars lead with a three. Hope Tomlinson drained a three as well after it looked like the Cougars would make a run up 8, but instead Salem went into the locker room trailing 24-19.

Hickey said his team’s depth really showed when they weathered the storm in the first half with Miller on the bench. “I think when Leah went out we actually won the half from that point. There were a couple of times I looked at the board and I told the coaches as long as we kept it at five or under we will keep her on the bench. Nat hit that big three. I’ve talked about our depth so much, and there are nights we don’t use it. We know at any time they can come in and play. Callie came in and played great. The ultimate sign of trust that we have is she doesn’t play the second half, we put her in and she immediately gets fouled and strokes two free throws. We’ve got a lot of kids that can play. Our depth is a big key for us and I think we wore them down a bit at the end.”

Salem came out firing in the second half to take the lead on a three from Tomlinson and stayed in front for most of the period. After sitting almost a quarter and a half Miller made her presence felt with seven points in the quarter to help Salem pull ahead by four.

In the fourth quarter North Harrison showed why they were the three tie conference champions and why Hatton is so highly touted when she took over the game. She scored nine points in the fourth quarter to help North Harrison jump back ahead by two late in the contest. But Salem’s force in the paint had an answer as she tied the game up with just over a minute to go in regulation.

Salem had a chance though to win in regulation when MacKenzie Underwood came up with maybe the play of the game when she poked a ball away from behind to come up with a steal to give Salem the shot at the game winner with 45 ticks remaining. As the seconds ran down Unerwood drove to the hoop and was fouled with just two seconds to go but no whistle was blown, and instead the game went into overtime.

Hatton gave North Harrison the lead with an early bucket, but from there it was all Salem. A couple of steals from Sweeney, Underwood, and Miller helped Salem get a couple of easy buckets in transition to build up a lead. From there they iced it away at the charity stripe with free throws from Callie Backherms, Sweeney, and Miller to put themselves in the driver’s seat of the MSC.

Two of the players who had a great effort on the defensive end in Underwood and Nice are a big reason Salem was able to pull out the win Hickey said. “We think Lilly is the best player in southern Indiana. We can’t say enough good things about her, but she hasn’t seen anybody like Lettie yet. We had a good game plan. She only had four points at the half. You can’t ask for any more than that. She got real hot there at the end and shot them back into it. If you told me coming in she was only going to get 20 points I would say we will take it.. We’ve said all week you couldn’t tell Mac was hurt other than she was just out of shape. You notice at the end of the game who was there? 12 was there picking them off. She’s just so smart and always in the right place. Lettie is a different defender because she is such a great shot blocker, but Mac’s instincts are the best I’ve ever coached.”

The Lions are halfway through their conference schedule. Their next game against an MSC team isn’t until January 5th when they will host Silver Creek. Hickey said he isn’t worried about his team possibly overlooking anybody in the conference after what appeared to be a MSC championship game. “A lot of people feel like that and our girls feel that. One of the first things I said when I went into the locker room was that’s a huge win, but we still have tough games on the road. I love our kids. I don’t think that’s a worry. They are gamers and they show up and play. I really thought tonight we might play our best game up to this point and I think we did that.”

Looking ahead to the rest of their schedule Hickey said he wants his team to get off to better starts. “We started slow again. We didn’t make layups. We missed a lot of easy shots to start the game. Credit their front line for that with all their height. Our last couple games have started off slow, and that used to be us. We were always up 8-0 or 10-0. Brownstown got us down, Corydon we got down, and then tonight. We called that timeout and hammered out a couple things and got it going again.”

Salem continued with their winning ways on Saturday when they hosted Floyd Central and beat the Highlanders 49-28 to move to 11-0 on the year. Salem will shoot for 12-0 when they host Paoli on Tuesday night.

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