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By MICHELLE GARMON
Tribune Sports Editor
RUSSIAVILLE –– Turnovers proved to be costly for Tri-Central against Western here on Wednesday night.
The Panthers scored 15 points off 21 Tri-Central turnovers on their way to a 46-33 victory over the Trojans.
“That was the halftime talk and kind of the post-game talk, what would have happened if we take care of the ball better,” Tri-Central coach Matt Corn said. “I thought we played well enough in every other facet to be in this game. We just kind of self-destruct at times.”
Both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net early. TC’s Abby Hoback scored the game’s first basket at the 4:24 mark of the first quarter. Tri-Central then got careless with the ball. Five turnovers led to an 8-0 Panther run. Back-to-back layups by Mackenzie York put Western on top 8-2 and had TC taking a timeout.
The Trojans (8-13) turned the ball over after the timeout and Western’s Karson Lechner cashed in to put the Panthers up 10-2. Ariana Jankoviac’s basket had TC within 10-4 at the quarter’s end.
The Panthers scored the first seven points of the second quarter, once again taking advantage of TC miscues. McKenna Smith scored a pair of layups off Trojan turnovers and York hit 1 of 2 free throws after a steal to extend Western’s lead to 17-4 with 5:08 remaining in the second period.
Karley Leininger drained a 3-pointer from the baseline and Allie Younce added a 3 of her own as TC cut the lead to 17-10. Smith had a three-point play and Caroline Long scored inside to offset a bucket by Hoback and send Western into halftime with a 22-12 lead.
Hoback hit a 3-pointer at the 6:46 mark of the third quarter to get Tri-Central to withing 24-15. But Western countered with an 11-0 run capped by Smith’s 3-pointer to extend its lead to 35-15 at the 3:22 mark of the third quarter. Leininger’s 3-pointer ended the run and Gracie Grimes hit 1 of 2 free throws but Tri-Central trailed 37-19 entering the fourth quarter.
The Trojans opened the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run as Leininger scored and Grimes had back-to-back buckets that trimmed the deficit to 37-25 with 4:51 remaining in the game.
Western’s Audrey Rassel and TC’s Natalie Newcom exchanged baskets but the Panthers (13-9) scored three straight points to push their lead to 42-27 with 1:58 left to play. Hoback’s 3-pointer again cut the lead to 12, 42-30, with 1:52 remaining. Western went on to win 46-33.
“Played a great first five minutes, hit the offensive boards hard and probably should’ve been up six or eight to nothing,” Corn said. “Then they ratcheted up the pressure and we turned it over five straight possessions and it’s 8-2 all of the sudden.
“Those are the things we talked about. We have to play a full eight minutes four times a game. Playing five of the eight or six of the eight just wasn’t good enough.”
Hoback and Smith shared game-high honors with 10 points each. Hoback also had five rebounds for TC. Leininger and Grimes chipped in eight points apiece, with Grimes also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists. Leininger had two rebounds and two assists.
Younce added three points and six rebounds, while Newcom and Jankoviac had two points each to round out TC’s scoring. Newcom also had four rebounds. TC’s top rebounder was Elaynna Young with seven.
For Western, York added nine points, Caroline Long eight points and Lechner six points. Lechner had a team-high seven rebounds, while Smith had five boards to go with her 10 points.
Tri-Central closes out the regular season and Hoosier Heartland Conference play at Delphi on Friday night. The Lady Trojans will then play Liberty Christian at 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday in the first round of Class A Sectional 55 at Tri-Central.
The Trojans played short-handed once again as guard Megan Conner was home with a stomach bug.
“I thought I never wanted another year like last year and I would trade last year for what we’ve had to go through this year any day of the week,” Corn said.. “We’ve only got two girls who have played in every game this year, and between injuries and illness, we haven’t had our normal starting five since early December.
“We’ve had some crazy lineups in there at times, asking girls to do some things maybe they’re not quite ready for yet. It’s just been tough. We’re real close to being fully healthy. Thought we were going to be fully healthy tonight, that didn’t happen. Hopefully, next week.”