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  • File photo Central Noble's Sydney Freeman leads the Cougars with 18 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 5.2 steals per game. The Cougars are looking for their second straight regional title at Winamac on Saturday.

  • File photo Central Noble's Meleah Leatherman is averaging 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds as the Cougars are looking for their second straight regional title at Winamac on Saturday.

Friday, February 09, 2018 1:00 am

Cougars' 1-2 punch primed for regional

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

Schedule

Girls basketball regionals

Saturday

Class 4A

At Kokomo

Carroll vs. South Side, 10 a.m.

Carmel vs. Zionsville, noon

Championship, 8 p.m.

Class 3A

At Columbia City

Marion vs. Hamilton Heights, 10 a.m.

Concordia vs. Fairfield, noon

Championship, 8 p.m.

Class 2A

At Winamac

Central Noble vs. Bluffton, 11 a.m.

Hammond Bishop Noll vs. North Judson, 1 p.m.

Championship, 7:30 p.m.

Class A

At Caston

North White vs. Lakewood Park, 10 a.m.

Oregon-Davis vs. Marquette Catholic, noon

Championship, 8 p.m.

At Tipton

Rockville vs. Southern Wells, 10 a.m.

Tri-Central vs. Tri, noon

Championship, 8 p.m.

Central Noble girls basketball coach Josh Treesh describes having Meleah Leatherman and Sydney Freeman as a coach's dream.

As hard as teams have tried so far this season, no defense has been able to eliminate both of them from being effective in any game, which has helped the Cougars win their second straight Class 2A sectional and advance to Saturday's regional at Winamac.

“Meleah's very difficult for other teams to guard,” Treesh said. “She's about 6-foot-1. The thing that makes it difficult is that last year, she was predominately an inside player. This year, she can knock down that 3, which I think is difficult to guard at her position.

“With Sydney, teams have tried to press us, tried to trap us, but her skill level as far as handling the ball is outstanding. She does a really good job of breaking down defenses and finding teammates wide open for shots.”

During the regular season, both players eclipsed the 1,000-point mark. Freeman, a Ball State recruit, is averaging 18 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 5.2 steals while Leatherman is averaging 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.

“You can't take both of them away,” Treesh said. “Teams have tried that but somehow, they just can't. You either take away Sydney or leave Meleah open one-on-one inside, and most teams don't have the personnel to stop her one-on-one.

“The best things teams have done is try to take away Meleah, which leaves Syd open for shots or driving to the basket, which she ends up feeding Meleah to score, so it's difficult.”

The two have played on the same court since they were freshmen with the Cougars, so the additional year together has only made them more familiar.

“I think she sees me really well. She knows what I'm going to do,” Leatherman said. “When she drives, she knows to kick it out, and I think that I try to find her on the outside if they collapse on the inside. I think we just know what each other does, so it's easy to read off each other.

“Some teams know what we're going to do, so we just have to rely on the rest of the team to step up, which they do.”

The Cougars advanced to the semistate last year where they fell to Oak Hill. The team graduated three seniors, two of whom contributed greatly on the defensive end.

This created some challenges heading into this season that have since been rectified.

“Those two seniors, we always told them, 'Don't turn it over, rebound and defend,'” Treesh said. “It's hard in today's game to get girls to buy in. It's a non-glory role. They're not really scoring a lot.

“Most kids want to score and be the limelight. Girls have bought into that.”

Last year's sectional championship was big, but this year has shown how the team has improved.

“I think last year was a bigger game since it was at Whitko. I think this year, it was still big for us,” Freeman said. “I think our defense (has gotten better), and we're working better as a team versus the beginning of the season.”

The Cougars will play Bluffton in the first regional semifinal game at Winamac, and the winner will play either Hammond Bishop Noll of North Judson on Saturday night for a berth in the 2A semistate.

“(Bluffton is) scrappy and quick and they like to get after you,” Treesh said. “We think with our discipline style of offense, getting the ball in the right spots, we can give them fits.

“We have four girls returning who saw significant varsity minutes, so it won't be a new atmosphere for them, unlike Bluffton where this is their (players') first time.”

areichel@jg.net