Kealey Simpson didn’t start the championship game for Centertown Monday night, but she sure ended it for the Lady Warriors.
Simpson scored a game-high 13 points – 11 coming in the second half – to earn tournament MVP as Centertown defeated Dibrell 31-18. The victory capped an undefeated campaign for the Lady Warriors, who relied on their size advantage all season long – but no more so than in the title tilt.
“Sometimes you don’t see a real post game in girls ball. I still think if your inside game is strong, it opens up the game. We’re blessed with size,” said Centertown Kelly Eckenrod. “These girls – Kealey included – do drills everyday. They work hard and support each other.”
After upsetting Eastside in the semifinals, Dibrell knew it would be a tall task – literally – take down Centertown. With Simpson, Annabelle Reinitz, Stormie Pezzimenti and Abby Fann all possessing size the Lady Wildcats couldn’t match 1-on-1, Dibrell had to throw everything at Centertown.
In the end, it didn’t seem to matter what look Dibrell gave, Simpson was going to score in the second half.
After leading 11-6 at halftime, Simpson took charge with a three-point play late in the third quarter. She was able to establish herself in the paint, scoring through contact before banking in the ensuing free throw.
Dibrell wouldn’t go away though. Emily Cantrell’s 3-pointer late in the third quarter made it 16-12 entering the fourth, easily one of the closest games during Centertown’s quest for perfection.
Down the stretch, the calls were simple for Eckenrod: Keep feeding Simpson. She set up shop on the right block, catching the ball between double and triple teams before finishing with a kiss off the glass.
Simpson scored eight points in the fourth quarter, six coming in quick succession to put Centertown up double figures. Her success seemed to come despite Dibrell’s best efforts to swarm the paint.
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“We started with our 1-3-1 and it really turned our season around. We stuck with it throughout the first half, but I wanted to the 2-3 zone to give us some more support,” said Dibrell coach Dustin Curtis. “You can’t play behind those girls and have any success – the switch may have been a bone-head move on my part, perhaps we should’ve stuck with the 1-3-1.
“I told our girls, ‘Centertown got a game tonight and they know they did.’ I don’t like moral victories, but I’m proud of my girls and the way they battled all night.”
Centertown point guard Brinlee Griffith, who scored seven points and was named all-tournament, made sure there wouldn’t be a late rally. Griffith drained 3-of-4 from the line in the last two minutes, answering a late layup from Lily Rains for Dibrell and showing a confident stroke to put the game on ice.
Cantrell led Dibrell with seven points, while Rains, Annabella Culwell and Katie Betchel scored three points apiece. Jenna Sullens added two free throws in the fourth quarter.
Dibrell was held to just five field goals throughout the game and shot 9-of-26 from the charity stripe.
Pezzimenti and Mackenzie Trapp each finished with four points for the Lady Warriors, doing it in different ways. Pezzimenti set the tone early in the paint, pulling down two offensive rebounds for layups in the first quarter. Trapp’s game was all about speed as the quick lefty was able to get into the teeth of the defense for layups twice.
Overall, Centertown did almost all its damage in the paint. Aside from an Allie Melton jumper late, the Lady Warriors went cold from the outside.
It was a shock to coach Eckenrod, who had emphasized finding ways to mix up the offense this year. In the end, the post play and elite defense was enough though.
“Outside shooting was one of our major goals and we had our worst shooting night all season. That hasn’t happened all season long, but it’s a testament to our defense,” said Eckenrod. “I tell the girls, ‘Defense wins games,’ because you’re going to have off shooting night – you just hope all 10 aren’t off on the same night.”
The victory was also two years of talent development in the making. This same group of girls had hung banners before, but it wasn’t a certainty they would do it again. Their hard work finally was rewarded Monday with an undefeated run through the elementary league.
“I knew the potential because they had done it as sixth-graders. But just because you do it young, you still have to grow and add to your toolbox every year or you’ll fade out. I’ve seen it happen to the greatest of players,” said Eckenrod. “I stick to fundamentals and we have great kids. We have no girl drama. We have great parent support.”
Those wild Lady Warrior fans were treated to perfection this year.