This Saturday, regional play will take place across the state in girls basketball and our area has one or two teams in each class.
In Class 3A, we will stay in the area for the only area Regional being played in Decatur at Bellmont High School. There is the chance for an all area final if Norwell and Garrett can get by stiff tests on Saturday morning. Three of the four teams in this Regional have won 20 or more games this season.
BENTON CENTRAL (24-3)
One of the top contenders to win the state title in Class 3A, the Bison just won their 22nd Sectional title and are defending Regional champions, although not in this Regional. Realignment moved them in and they are a team that is always ready to play. They have won four straight after back to back losses to end January to Class 4A teams including the juggernaut Northwestern. Before that, they had rallied off 14 straight wins, including four against teams from the state of Illinois. This Bison team is also playing off significant emotion following the recent passing of former Athletic Director and Bison supporter Dick Atha, who was a major part of their entire community.
Audrey Strawsma leads Benton Central in scoring, but this is a team that can score a lot of players any night. As the number two ranked team in the state, the Bison can also lean heavily on Kelsey Coffman for her versatility. The Bison are playing without Keely Meadows, a four year varsity player who tore her ACL in December, but many other girls have stepped up in her absence to make this team dangerous.
It has now been since 2014 since Norwell won a Regional title, but they also put some other title slumps behind them this year with Northeast 8 Conference and Sectional title wins. The biggest takeaway from Norwell’s Sectional week was that they are never beaten, especially behind eight time Sectional winning coach Eric Thornton, who led Norwell to seven straight titles from 2011-2017. They battled back is historic ways from a 19 point deficit to beat Bishop Luers and then went on to beat arch rival Bellmont in a final that was in question until Breann Barger’s free throws in the closing seconds.
A lot of players get credit for a lot of good reasons on this team but it starts with junior Lauren Bales as someone who is really good at reading the court and getting her teammates involved. Bales, one of the three headed junior monster with Kaylee Fuelling and Maiah Shelton, may not get enough credit in the starting lineup for providing a lot of intangibles. That may be because Fuelling, and more recently, Shelton, are big number performers. Norwell certainly has the depth in every statistical category to contend for this Regional.
Is this a season earlier than we expected Garrett to make it to the Regional round? Probably. But it just shows that coach Bob Lapadot’s primary lineup of four sophomores and a freshman are playing well beyond their years. They last won Regional titles back to back in 2008 and 2009, before the Lapadot era began. They have had some setback losses this year in games they probably should have won, but winning tight games using highly focused and intelligent play last week in Sectionals have erased some of that.
Freshman Bailey Kelham may be a once in a generation scorer by the time she is finished in Garrett and I’m certainly not trying to heap pressure on her with that. She is just pure with how she plays and become the top single game scoring freshman girl in state history earlier this season. Her ability to attack plays well off the sharpshooting of Faith Owen, the inside presence of Morgan Ostrowski and the pass first success of Nataley Armstrong. Garrett has it all and if they can put all of that together, they can pull upsets on Saturday.
The Golden Falcons have now won back to back Regional titles and are certainly in the thick of this day. This year was Winchester’s first Class 3A Sectional title after years of dominant play that made them one of the best programs in Class 2A. This team is all about big win totals, currently on a six game win streak after starting their season on a 14 game win streak. Coach Holly Gutierrez has won 107 games in five seasons at the helm of this program. Winchester just put away a very good Yorktown team convincingly with big runs throughout their Sectional final.
If you haven’t see senior Maddie Lawrence play, this is a destination for you just for that reason. She has been a prime player on both ends of the court for years now and is a tough guard for any individual player as Randolph County’s All-Time leading scorer. Senior Becca Chamberlin is also a big piece and the Golden Falcons have plenty of young players stepping up too.
Class 3A Bellmont Regional Schedule
Norwell vs. Winchester, 10 a.m.
Garrett vs. Benton Central, Noon
Championship Game, 8 p.m.
These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTHBOB