TERRE HAUTE – Canterbury’s toughest opponent may have been boredom.
The tradition- and talent-rich girls basketball program has been spoiled by its recent state success, and it almost caught up with them Saturday in the Class A state title game at Indiana State’s Hulman Center.
Riding high and then suddenly riding low, the Cavaliers were able to even things out in time to beat Vincennes Rivet 42-35 for their fifth state championship in the last six years.
“That’s what coach (Wayne Kreiger) points out,” junior Kindell Fincher said of the team’s tendency to relax. “He has to remind us to play through all 32 minutes.”
Just when a 14-point halftime lead had been whittled to one, Kreiger called a timeout to get the Cavaliers back on track.
“During the lull, coach called a timeout and got our minds in the right place so we could come out and put the pedal to the metal,” senior Bailey Farley said. “We eased up a little bit where we could have kept pushing.”
Rivet cut a 30-16 halftime lead to 36-35 in the fourth after a 12-0 run.
Kreiger said the team got tired and had to fight through the fatigue.
“I told them that we had worked too hard to get to this point to let tired take over,” Kreiger said. “There was enough pride in these kids that they were able to pick it up.”
The top-ranked Cavaliers (25-3) have beaten the No. 4 Patriots (22-5) in three state title games – 2009, 2010 and 2013.
“It feels like the first one, the same excitement and same feeling but maybe just a little bit more because I knew coming in it was going to be my last game with these girls that I have grown so close to,” said Farley, who has won state titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to go out of my high school career.”
Fincher finished with 17 points and a class basketball-era state finals record 19 rebounds, 13 in the first half.
The previous record of 17 was shared by two players, including former Cavalier standout Tabitha Gerardot, who did it in 2008 and 2009.
“I was really excited,” Fincher said of hearing of the record. “My goal was 20 at the beginning of the game.”
Sophomore Darby Maggard added 11 points.
“You have to say you might lose this game, and it should motivate you,” Maggard said of the big lead disappearing. “Canterbury has never been in a state championship game where they have lost, and we didn’t want to be the first to do that.”
Canterbury led 36-28 after the third quarter after Rivet’s Kelsey Ivers (17 points) hit a last-second three-pointer.
The Cavaliers regrouped by switching to a 1-2-2 defense with senior Aaliyah Gaines at the point of attack. Canterbury scored 30 points in the first half, but had only 12 in the final two quarters.
“I knew we had it, we just had to settle down and not play the game they wanted to play,” Gaines said.
While an offense that generates a state-best 71 points per game stalled, the defense held firm.
Rivet made only 14 of 54 (26 percent) from the floor with 14 turnovers, while Canterbury was 18 of 59 (31 percent) and 10 turnovers.
“Our defense was the difference in the ballgame,” Kreiger said. “We like to transition, and we were able to do that pretty consistently in the first half, but in the second half we got a little weary and didn’t execute as well offensively. But defensively we were able to continue to get turnovers down the stretch.”