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January 23, 2014

Honey Creek girls, Otter Creek boys celebrate eighth-grade basketball titles

WEST TERRE HAUTE — On the blue side of the Vigo County middle school spectrum, perseverance paid off. On the purple side? It was championship experience.

Honey Creek’s eighth-grade girls roster had never won a county championship, but the Bees changed that Thursday with a 28-19 victory over Otter Creek.

Otter Creek’s boys have been on this stage before as defending champions and it showed against Honey Creek. The Otters pulled away in the boys championship game for a 50-28 triumph.

Perseverance paid off for Honey Creek’s girls … defense didn’t hurt either.

The Bees packed the lane to keep Otter Creek’s drivers from penetrating the lane. Forced into jump shots, the Otters had trouble getting on track.

“Our focus coming in was defense and second-chance points. It’s something we struggled with until the last couple of games when we came together. We kept them on the outside and they weren’t able to get any outside shots,” Honey Creek coach Dustin Speth said.

After an early Carly Stuck basket, Honey Creek (7-2) never trailed, but the Otters kept within striking distance for most of the first half.

Taylor Pepperworth scored seven of her game-high 11 points in the first two quarters and Honey Creek built a seven-point lead. But when Emily Berrisford hit a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in the second quarter, the Bees’ lead was just 13-12.

The Bees re-built their lead patiently. A 6-0 run sandwiching halftime — Erin Friedrich scored two of the buckets — put Honey Creek up 19-12. Otter Creek hung around, it cut its deficit to four midway through the third period, but the Bees’ defense frustrated the Otters. Open looks from long range didn’t fall for Otter Creek, compounding matters.

Honey Creek’s defensive excellence was complete by the fourth quarter. Otter Creek scored just two points in the period.

“They beat us last year in county, but we came back strong. We shook off our nerves this game,” Pepperworth said. “It’s our first county title for this group. It’s exciting for us.”

Friedrich added seven points for the Bees. Kaylee Stewart led Otter Creek with eight points.

In the boys contest, Otter Creek’s ball pressure and size in the paint carried the day, despite a foot injury suffered by starter Colten Panaranto early in the first quarter.

The Otters jumped to an 8-2 lead, but when Panaranto went down at the 3:42 mark, it briefly threw the Otters for a loop. The Bees capitalized with an 8-2 run and tied the game at 10.

From that point, however, the Otters were in control. Otter Creek’s double-edged sword of pressure defense and second-chance buckets proved too much for the Bees. Otter Creek used both to build a 21-12 halftime lead as the Bees scored two points in the second quarter.

“It starts with our defense. They know defense wins games for them. If they can force turnovers, they can get buckets. Our energy comes from the defensive end,” Otter Creek coach Lucas Utterback said.

The Otters salted it away in the third period. Otter Creek center Denny Zigler scored eight of his game-high 14 points in the third and early fourth quarter. By the end of his splurge, the Otters led 34-15 and sailed to a 22-point victory.

“It’s a pretty fun opportunity to play on this team. Back-to-back is good for us. We’re a team and we showed it tonight,” Zigler said. “We were weak on rebounding at the start of the year, but we got better and we blocked out better [as the year went along]. It really helped us.”

Shawn Hapenny added 13 for the 8-1 Otters. Ty’re Hutchins paced the Bees with eight points.

“These guys know how to win. More importantly, they know how to play as a team,” said Utterback of a roster that won its seventh-grade championship and was runner-up in sixth grade.

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