The Northeastern Lady Knights traveled to Southwestern High School in Shelbyville on Saturday, Feb. 10, to face the Sheridan Lady Blackhawks for the regional championship. Both teams entered the game with 19 wins looking for number 20, and with it a trip to the semi-state. For Sheridan it was their first time to reach the regional round in school history. Northeastern was returning to the regional round for the first time since 2011.
The Blackhawks are a young team, led by six-foot junior guard Kenzie Garner and a solid supporting cast. The Lady Knights looked to use their speed to exploit the Blackhawks’ defense, but for most of the game the Lady Blackhawks matched it.
For three quarters the teams battled evenly.
Addisen Mastriano opened the game with a three pointer to give Northeastern an early 3-0 advantage. Sheridan answered with back-to-back field goals to take the lead at 4-3. The lead changed hands four more times before Mastriano hit another three pointer to give the Knights a 10-9 lead after one quarter of play.
The defense picked up both ways in the second quarter and the scoring pace slowed. The game was tied at 11-11, and the lead changed hands three times. A rebound basket from Karri Gammon gave the Knights a 15-14 lead late in the period. Mac Smith scored in the final seconds to give Sheridan a 16-15 lead at halftime. The intensity from both teams was befitting of a championship game.
The Knights made a move to take control of the game in the early stages of the third quarter. Ava Mikesell took a pass from Mastriano and scored on a backdoor play. Juztice Slick hit a baseline jumper and Mikesell scored again on a pass from Mastriano to give the Knights their biggest lead of the game at 21-16 with 5:50 remaining.
The lead evaporated quickly. Garner scored from the wing, On the next possession she grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the Sheridan deficit to one point. Cami Angi scored inside to give the Knights a three-point lead but the ‘Hawks answered with consecutive baskets to take the lead at 24-23. Garner hit a short-range jumper and seconds later hit a three-pointer to extend the Sheridan lead to 29-23 with 2:43 remaining in the period.
The Knights fought back. A three-pointer from Mikesell in the final seconds cut the Northeastern deficit to 31-29 entering the fourth quarter.
But just about everything that could go wrong for the Knights in the fourth quarter did. The team went stone cold and their shots would not fall. Ady Kircher, who struggled with foul problems all day, fouled out with 4:41 remaining in the game. Sheridan opened the fourth quarter on an incredible 15-0 run with Garner scoring nine of the 15 points. The only points Northeastern scored in the final period was on a rebound basket from Nevaeh Chapman with 16 seconds left in the game.
Mastriano led the Knights with 10 ten points and 15 rebounds. Garner led the Blackhawks and all game scorers with 27 points.
Northeastern head coach Cody Dudley said he felt bad for his kids but felt good about what they accomplished this season. “It was hard to keep your poise when your shots stop falling and you look up at the clock you realize that your season is about to end,” Dudley said. “We have spent months together and I will miss them. I feel bad for them because they are hurting now, but they will look back on this later and realize how much they accomplished. Only one 2A team will be satisfied at the end of the tournament.”
It was the final game in a Northeastern basketball uniform for seniors Nevaeh Chapman, Sady Gammon, Addisen Mastriano and Juztice Slick. Mastriano spoke for the group. “I think this team had too much success this season to be too upset today.” Mastriano said. “We gave it our best effort and I have a lot of confidence in our returning players. I think they will be back in the regional next year.”
On the other side of the gym, Garner politely said that winning the title was a thrill. “My coach told me to take over the game in the second half, so that is what I tried to do,” Garner said. “We knew that Northeastern was a very good team, but we pride ourselves on defense and that has carried us all year. I think our defense was the difference in the game.”
Sheridan will face Eastern Hancock next week in the semi-state.
Sheridan (20-5) 9 7 15 15 46
Makaley Terry 0, Nova Cross 4, Sade Timme 4, Mac Smith 2, Kenzie Garner 27, Makenzy Terry 0, Shelby Eaton 0, Kennedy Zachary 0, Brielle Garner 4, Cecilia Timme 5 – Total 46
Northeastern (19-7) 10 5 14 2 31
Mikesell 8, Kircher 4, Slick 2, Ariel Shuler 0, Karri Gammon 3, Cami Angi 2, Mastriano 10, Brooklynne 0, Chapman 2, Amiyah Davis 0, Sady Gammon 0 – Total 31
A version of this article appeared in the February 14 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.