Columbus East snapped a four-game losing skid Monday night, overcoming a sluggish start to defeat Jennings County, 57-50.
The win pushed the Olympians to 8-9 overall and 2-4 in the Hoosier Hills Conference, while the Panthers (8-9) fell to 2-5 in the HHC.
East came out flat-footed against a pumped-up Panther crew celebrating Senior Night, and they paid the price as the hosts bolted out to an 18-7 first-quarter lead.
But the guests found their focus after that, turning up their pressure defense and turning the tables on Jennings County to pull to within 30-27 at intermission, and then taking full control in the third quarter to go in front 40-33.
“I think we finally found our identity,” varsity assistant Dan Brown said. “We are a pressing team that likes to run fast and loose, and we were able to do that tonight.”
The sudden change of gears appeared to shock the Panthers, who turned the ball over 11 times in the second period and another seven in the third period, where they scored just three points.
“We played scared,” Jennings County coach Carrie Manowitz said. “We’ve handled presses before, but I don’t think the girls wanted to listen very well tonight and this is what happens.”
Baylee Krueger came out on fire for the hosts, scoring eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers to help push her squad in front, 12-7. Emma Campbell, one of the two seniors along with Emily Ertel, honored before the contest, also scored eight in the opening quarter.
The tandem finished with 18 and 15 points, respectively, but failed to keep up their scoring intensity for the remainder of the contest as the Olympians put the squeeze on them.
East, meanwhile, finished with three players in double-figure scoring, including senior Allyson Bunch, who paced her team with 16 points. She failed to find her offense until the 4:50 mark of the second quarter, where she then reeled off eight points over a span of just two minutes. Her 11th point of the period, a long-range trey, pulled her team even at 25 before Krueger and Campbell answered for the Panthers with consecutive 3-pointers.
Junior Audrey Wetzel finished with 15 points for the Olympians, including burying her only made triple of the contest at the 5:52 mark in the third to put East in front for good at 32-30. Senior Katie Ritenour added 10 points, including sinking three of four free throws down the stretch to help her team hold off one last Jennings County rally.
“We got to see all four seniors (Bunch, Ritenour, Courtney Hunter and Molly Macy) on the floor at the same time tonight and they came through,” Brown said. “I think their leadership really showed and made the difference.”
The Panthers found themselves trailing 49-39 midway through the final period before making one last run as Sidney Gerkin drilled a 3-pointer and Krueger slid past the defense to cut the lead to 50-45.
But Ritenour’s freebies, along with the Olympians’ relentless pressure defense managed to hold the hosts at bay.