Columbus East went into Monday night’s game trying to snap a four-game losing streak, so the Olympians had senior manager Maredeth Sims tell a couple of jokes prior to tipoff.

That seemed to lighten the mood for East. The Olympians jumped out to a big lead early and held on for a 52-45 win against a New Albany team that had been in position to earn a share of the Hoosier Hills Conference girls basketball title.

“It loosened us up a little bit,” senior Britney Ballard said. “We knew we were in a slump the past couple of games, and we just wanted to come out tonight and we wanted to get momentum going into sectional.”

The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-2 post player, Kelsy Taylor, scored four points in the first minute to give them a 4-0 lead. But then East (14-7, 3-4) held them scoreless for more than nine minutes.

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During that span, the Olympians scored 15 consecutive points. Addy Galarno hit two 3-pointers during the run, and Ballard and Katie Dougherty each made one 3.

“In the huddle before the game, we just looked at each other, and we were like, ‘It’s time to win,’” senior Kristen Lyons said. “We had a couple-game slump, but we came back on our home court, and we showed that we’re ready to finish our season strong. We played team ball, and that’s what we’re going to have to do to win games down the stretch.”

East built the lead to 22-9 on another Ballard 3 late in the first half and led 22-11 at the break. The Olympians led by as many as 14 on two occasions in the third quarter.

Trailing 35-22 entering the fourth period, New Albany (11-10, 4-2) started the quarter on an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 37-30. The lead stayed between eight and 12 the rest of the way until the Bulldogs banked in a 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining.

“I think the focus and intensity was a lot better,” East coach Danny Brown said. “I think we came loose and ready to play. I think we had just been uptight a little bit, but the effort tonight was amazing. We got good contribution from everybody and took care of the ball down the stretch and hit our free throws for the most part.”

Ballard led the Olympians with 15 points, while Galarno added 12 points, and Lyons had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Claire Cunningham grabbed nine rebounds.

“We finally got back to playing team basketball,” Lyons said. “We’re just having fun out there, and that’s what really matters. We were moving the ball, blocking shots and getting rebounds.”

Taylor finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for New Albany, which outrebounded East 35-30. But Brown praised Lyons for helping contain Taylor after Taylor’s two baskets in the opening minute.

“I thought Kristen Lyons just played an outstanding game tonight against her,” Brown said. “I think she outplayed her and just had a great all-around game.”

The Olympians are in the midst of a stretch of five games in eight days to close the regular season. They dropped HHC games Thursday at Jennings County and Saturday at Madison.

East hosts Southport tonight for senior night and plays at Martinsville on Thursday before beginning sectional play against Shelbyville on Tuesday at East Central.

“This is a big win for us to get us going again,” Brown said. “I think we were just in a shooting slump the last four games. It’s been frustrating for the players. They’ve been playing hard, and sometimes shots don’t go in, but tonight, I thought we played excellent. I thought we played excellent defense the first half, and our execution on offense was also outstanding.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.