Dec. 5—There was a tournament-like atmosphere in an early December game on Saturday night in the Berry Bowl.
Two state-ranked teams, Class A No. 4 Caston and Class 2A No. 8 Pioneer, squared off with the Logansport Savings Bank Cass County Tournament championship on the line.
It was a close, back-and-forth game for three quarters before the Comets pulled away in the fourth for a 45-32 victory over the Panthers.
The Comets (9-0) made some history by winning their first Cass County Tournament championship in program history. The event began in the 2004-05 season. Logansport won the first 11 titles and 13 of the first 14, with Lewis Cass winning in 2015. Pioneer had won the last four.
It was also Caston's first win over Pioneer in girls basketball since 2016, ending an 11-game losing streak.
The Panthers (6-1) had done a nice job of winning close games this season and they did a nice job of keeping it close against the Comets for three quarters. But the fourth quarter was all Caston.
The Comets scored the first seven points of the game and led 9-5 after one quarter. The Panthers opened the second with a 13-0 run to take a 18-9 lead midway through the frame. The Comets closed with an 11-1 run to take a 20-19 lead at halftime.
The Panthers took their last lead at 26-25 on a 3-pointer by Ashlynn Brooke with 4:00 left in the third. An Addison Zimpleman basket with five seconds left in the quarter to give the Comets a 30-28 lead.
Neither team shot the ball well from 3-point range on the night but Annie Harsh hit a big one with 4:45 to go to give the Comets a 37-32 advantage.
Harsh hit four free throws in a row to push the lead to 41-32 with 3:23 left. Isabel Scales hit four straight from the line to close out the game.
Scales nearly had a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to earn tournament MVP honors for the Comets. She had an assist on all three Comet field goals in the fourth quarter as Caston outscored Pioneer 15-4 in the final frame.
"We've waited this long and we've put in so much work," Scales said. "They're our rival and they've been really good in every sport, so every sport we get a win against them it's really big, the improvement that we've made since our freshman year.
"Like we said in softball, we got by them and this is the hump we need. We have a big week ahead of us and hopefully the momentum just keeps going and we have a big week."
Bailey Harness added 10 points and eight boards for Caston. Zimpleman scored nine points. Harsh scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter. Kinzie Mollenkopf added five boards and three points. Macee Hinderlider chipped in two points. Harness and Zimpleman were named to the all-tournament team.
Harness said it was a big win for her senior season.
"It means a lot to me actually," she said. "My freshman year we actually won the Cass County Tournament for JV and just winning it my senior year, I got a little emotional after we won just because it's just so crazy and I'm so proud of the team. I'm proud of Addison Zimpleman, she did such a good job on defense tonight. I'm just proud of everybody tonight."
It was Ashlynn Brooke's first-ever loss in the Berry Bowl. She had previously been 3-0, with two semistate wins her first two years of high school and winning the county championship game last year, a 55-51 win over Caston.
But the Comets hounded her Saturday by running a box-and-one defense against her. They held her to 15 points, which was 15 under her average. She added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Gracie Hopper was also in double figures with 10 points for the Panthers. She and Brooke were named to the all-tournament team. Makenna Strycker added three points and Kylie Attinger and Paula Collado Fernandez added two apiece. Attinger pulled down eight rebounds and Fernandez added six.
"I thought Caston did a really nice job in the second half being aggressive, getting into us and double, triple teaming Ashlynn and we had our other players not hit some open shots which hurt us so they could just continue to double and triple her," Pioneer coach Jeff Brooke said. "I thought the physicality of the game got a little away from the referees. Josh has got a nice team, Caston is a very nice team. They've got multiple weapons and they're hard to defend.
"They did a really good job of going inside and were able to use their bodies. Like I said, they're very physical inside and our girls reacted and I think that's how they got their fouls on them."
The Panthers were without junior Brooklyn Borges, who suffered a knee injury the previous game against Logansport. She's averaging 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game but might not be able to play again this season.
"I don't know. She went to the doctor. She's walking right now so it's a question mark whether it's an injury for the rest of the year or not, so we'll just see," coach Brooke said.
The Comets won by 13 on a night they shot 2 of 16 from 3. When the shots weren't falling from the outside, the Comets adjusted by pounding the ball inside the second half. They were 1 of 13 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half and 1 of 3 in the second half.
"When something doesn't work we keep moving and we figure out what works," Scales said. "That's the thing about this team, if somebody's not hitting you can put it on somebody else. We have each other's back and we'll just get through the night however we can."
Scales is playing more off the ball this year and that continued Saturday against the Panthers' zone.
"She played inside all night tonight which we thought that would be to our advantage," Caston coach Josh Douglass said. "We put her in there early. They were doing a great job of swarming her, so we had to work on moving that ball and her flashing a little quicker. At halftime we talked about we weren't holding enough to let her get there but she wasn't moving quick enough to get there. So we had to fix that and I thought in the second half we did a lot better job of that."
The Comets usually play man-to-man defense but they went to a box-and-one Saturday.
"Very rare but we've been practicing it about 10 days," Douglass said. "That's what our plan was, our plan was to hedge everything high. The girls on the backside have to do your job because you're at a disadvantage and they did an excellent job whoever was on bottom tonight."
Zimpleman and Hinderlider had the task of guarding Brooke at the top of the box-and-one.
"There in the first quarter I switched them on and off just a little bit but other than that Addison Zimpleman did a fantastic job on her tonight," Douglass said. "But it took the whole team helping off and helping Addison getting off of those screens and all that too."
The Comets outlasted the Panthers in a defensive-oriented game.
"We're in great shape," Douglass said. "We battled a lot of foul problems there in the first half, some of them I wasn't sure of. But no, I'm proud of the girls. They went on that little run and I told the girls we kind of got down on ourselves. We called that timeout and we weathered it. I've never kind of seen us sink and they even agreed in the locker room, they sunk. I said, 'We can't do that. They're going to do that, they're going to hit shots, they're a good team.' But once we weathered that storm, in the second half I thought we just locked down even tighter and I thought we played a tremendous second half."
The teams will meet again Dec. 13 in Fulton.
"Great team there. We're going to see them again in less than 10 days and it'll be another battle," Douglass said.
Caston travels to North Judson Thursday and hosts Triton Saturday afternoon for a pair of league games this week. Pioneer hosts North White Thursday and LaPorte Saturday afternoon.