STATE CHAMPS! Pioneer tops Loogootee 43-42 to win title

Beau Wicker Sports Editor, Pharos-Tribune, Logansport, Ind.
·5 min read

Feb. 28—INDIANAPOLIS — Big-time players make big-time shots.

Ashlynn Brooke's 18-foot jumper from the left wing gave Pioneer a 43-42 lead with 7.0 seconds left in the Class A state championship game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Loogootee called timeout and had the length of the court to go. Kalea Fleming advanced the ball, but her pass to Makenzie VanHoy was intercepted by Mackenzie Walker near the basket. Walker dribbled out the final seconds to secure the state championship for the Lady Panthers.

The Panthers (25-4) won their sixth state title in team sports (three in football and one each in softball, volleyball and girls basketball).

Ashlynn Brooke is at only about 70% strength due to having her second knee surgery in as many years last September. At times her limitations and rust show, as in the first half when she went 0 of 3 from the field and was held scoreless.

But at times the talent that has led to her already picking up 11 Division-I offers also shows, as it did in the second half when she scored 10 points and hit the game-winning shot in the state championship game as a sophomore.

It was a triumphant comeback for Ashlynn. The Lady Panthers are now 22-1 in games she has played in.

"It's been tough with the minutes restriction and going through and trying to get my strength back and boosting confidence," she said. "So hitting that shot, it felt amazing helping us get the W today."

Hailey Cripe came out focused and playing to win, knocking down three 3-pointers in a row to help give the Panthers a 15-11 lead after one quarter of play.

Cripe's fourth made 3 in a row to start the game gave the Panthers a 22-16 lead late in the first half. They led 22-18 at halftime.

The third quarter was a back-and-forth battle between two evenly matched teams. The Lions (20-5) got their offense going and took a 27-24 lead on a basket by Kylie VanHoy with 4:30 left in the frame.

Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke called timeout and decided to go man-to-man as Loogootee was finding holes in the zone defense.

Coach Brooke's daughter Olivia then hit a deep 3 to tie the game back up out of the timeout.

That shot prompted a 13-2 run by the Panthers to end the quarter. Madison Blickenstaff's putback right before the horn gave them a 37-29 lead after three.

The Lions were not about to go away quietly. They opened the fourth with a run before a pullup jumper by Olivia gave Pioneer a 39-35 lead with 5:15 remaining.

Brooklyn Jones answered with a 3 for the Lions. Kylie VanHoy's score in transition gave them the lead back at 40-39 with 3:50 left.

Ashlynn came up with a steal and later scored on a putback to put the Panthers back up with 2:25 left.

Fleming answered with a drive to give the Lions a 42-41 lead with 1:55 left. The Panthers then turned the ball over as a deflected pass out of bounds was awarded to the Lions.

The Lions then did a good job of playing keep-away and taking time off the clock. The Panthers had to foul to extend the game.

Fleming was sent to the line for a 1-and-1 with 38.1 seconds left but missed the first. The rebound was tipped out of bounds by the Panthers. Isabelle Waggner was then fouled with 29.0 seconds left but she also missed the front end. Both girls had previously made their first two attempts from the line on the day.

This time Blickenstaff rebounded the miss and the Panthers dribbled the ball past halfcourt and called a couple timeouts to strategize their final play.

They called their "UConn" play. Olivia got the ball on the right wing. Ashlynn utilized a screen by Blickenstaff and popped open on the left wing. Olivia delivered a perfect pass and Ashlynn caught the ball, rose up and drilled the shot with 7.0 seconds to go.

Walker came up with the game-winning steal, continuing her legacy as a defensive ace as she's Pioneer's all-time leader in digs as a state champion in volleyball and has also been a state championship catcher in softball.

"She just gets in the trenches and does the dirty work," coach Brooke said. "She doesn't get that credit but what a great head's up and reaction by her."

Several of these athletes are a softball state title in the spring away from winning three state titles in the same school year.

Olivia led the Panthers with 13 points and eight rebounds. Cripe had 12 points and six boards on 4 of 5 shooting from 3. Ashlynn scored 10 points as her minutes were upped to 21 for the final game of the season. Blickenstaff had eight points and five boards. Walker added five assists.

Kylie VanHoy scored 18 points to lead the Lions. Jones had 12 points and seven boards.

Olivia Brooke was named the Patricia L. Roy Mental Attitude Award winner following the contest. Olivia, who has a 4.0 GPA, is the 11th athlete from PHS to win the Mental Attitude Award at a State Finals.

Last year Loogootee made the plays down the stretch to win 47-45. This year it was the Panthers winning 43-42.

"We need to give credit to Loogootee. They are a heck of a basketball team. The determination and just how they played today was fantastic," coach Brooke said. "What a great 1A game that we saw today. I'm sure that was entertaining for everybody watching. I'm super proud of Lady Panther basketball and their perseverance and grit and determination to continue to do that throughout the game, especially that last minute and a half. Wow, I'm glad I took my heart medicine today because that was pretty nerve-racking. But I'm glad we're on the winning side of that."