Central Noble girls basketball has gotten very comfortable being in the confines of Logansport’s “Berry Bowl,” in mid-February. On Saturday, they will make their third straight trip to a semistate round played at Logansport where they will try to make it more like 2018’s appearance than 2017’s.
The Cougars (27-0) will enter the weekend as the lone area girls basketball team still playing, in the quest to defend their Class 2A state title. They will run up against Oak Hill (23-3) in a rematch of that 2017 semistate game that Central Noble lost by nine. Start time at Logansport will be 4 p.m.
Things in the system though are much different than two years ago, even significantly different than they were a year ago when the Cougars were preparing for a final four meeting with Frankton.
“I think we are more mature; I think we are more confident in the system at this point. We know what needs to be done. We know the importance of the game,” Central Noble coach Josh Treesh said. “A little bit different of a scenario because we have in the back of our mind that two years ago, we played Oak Hill in the semistate and got beat.”
Oak Hill won that 2017 game 42-33. That year’s trip to semistate marked the first time in 11 seasons that the Cougars had even gotten past the first game in Sectional play.
Part of the team could be looking for a little revenge for that 2017 Oak Hill loss; seniors Meleah Leatherman and Sydney Freeman were both key parts of the Cougar lineup even back then. Last year, they became two of the most standout players in the state as they led Central Noble to their first ever state championship. It became a point of emphasis along the way for teams to try and figure out how to defend the duo with Leatherman becoming dominant inside and Freeman as one of the best perimeter players in the state, regardless of class.
Freeman was an Indiana Junior All-Star a year ago and, after being named one of the state’s top seniors by Hoosier Basketball Magazine this week, she may have a shot at being an Indiana All-Star again this season. As a senior, she is averaging 18.4 points per game at a 49 percent success rate and also averaging 5.1 steals per contest, making her practically unavoidable on the perimeter.
“She didn’t feel the greatest on Saturday at Winamac [at Regionals], but she played pretty darn good for not feeling good,” Treesh noted of Freeman. “She knows what is at stake; I think she thrives in these situations. It is a chance for her to solidify where she is at as far as some of the top players in the state of Indiana and I know she will come ready to compete.”
Central Noble hopes to see the ball pushed inside to Leatherman often against Oak Hill. In 2018’s semistate win over Frankton, she dominated down low with 21 points and 14 rebounds, a major catalyst in the Cougars’ win. Then, Leatherman had to deal with 6-foot-1 Frankton post Destyne Knight. Saturday, it will be a player of the same height and perhaps a higher skill level in Taylor Westgate that will battle with Leatherman. Still, Treesh is confident that because of Leatherman’s efficiency — she shoots 63 percent inside the arc — that Oak Hill will not have the luxury of just defending her one on one.
“I think with her, it is playing smart and staying out of foul trouble. Attacking inside when we get her the ball because that is the key for us; if we can get her scoring inside, that whole defense has to collapse on her, that opens up Syd and Bridgette and some of our other girls that are ready to catch and shoot” Treesh said. “So that is what we are going to try and do, we are going to try and pound it inside.”
Bridgette Gray, who has become a viable third scoring option, will be one of those players who can make a world of difference for Central Noble. The sophomore, who was a starter last season, averages 9.7 points per game this season. Her scoring outbursts now have teams asking how to stop not two, but three big time players for Central Noble.
Another sophomore, Lydia Andrews, and well as Sam Brumbaugh will likely round out Saturday’s starting lineup. All five starters played important minutes will last season’s state championship team. They are all also averaging 25 or more minutes per game. Senior Anna Stayner and junior Jocelyn Winebrenner have also seen action in all 27 Central Noble wins.
For Treesh, the depth of learning for the entire program — players and coaching staff — has been critical not only in their success but in their relaxation along the way. And relaxation has allowed them to block out any exterior critics looking to create a crack in their unblemished record.
“I think every year, you learn something new. I think the first year, it was a shock to all of us that we got to semistate. Then last year, we had a little lull there at the end of the season and we started playing good in the postseason. The further we go, the more situations we are in as a coaching staff, the more comfortable we will get,” Treesh said.
“This year has been absolutely outstanding. It hasn’t been about beating this team by 30, beating this team by 40, it has just been about playing Central Noble basketball and that is how we measure ourselves on how we are doing and convincing the girls that the outside is going to say ‘you are not playing very well’ because you aren’t beating teams by 30 or 40. It is not about how we are beating them, it is about how we are executing our system and I feel like we have done a nice job all year of doing that.”
COMING FRIDAY: WE BREAK DOWN THE CENTRAL NOBLE/OAK HILL MATCH UP PIECE BY PIECE AS OUR OUTSIDE THE HUDDLE GAME OF THE WEEKEND, WITH MORE INSIGHT FROM COUGAR COACH JOSH TREESH.