TERRE HAUTE – Speeding along in cruise control doesn't test a champion. Flat tires do.
This is the bottom-line result: Canterbury High School's top-ranked girls basketball team won its fifth Class A state title in six years and second straight, beating Vincennes Rivet 42-35 on Saturday at the Hulman Center.
This is what happened minutes before: Canterbury's Cavaliers faced adversity like they hadn't all postseason. Their legs felt tired. Their shots fell short. A 14-point halftime lead started to lose its air like a slow leak until, with 3:23 left, it was all but gone.
Canterbury led 36-35. Vincennes Rivet's fans raised their volume by what seemed like triple-digit decibels. Here, finally, was where a champion would be revealed. But which one?
“You have to say, you know what, we might lose this game, and it has to motivate you,” sophomore point guard Darby Maggard said. “Canterbury has never been in a championship game where they lost, and we don't want to be the first ones to do that.”
Vincennes Rivet had a shot for the lead. If the Patriots had seized it, who knows what would have happened next? Instead, Canterbury sophomore Katherine Smith grabbed a rebound, cleared space and threw the outlet pass to senior Bailey Farley. Farley went coast-to-coast, scored and helped assure celebrating her third state title in four years.
“Everybody just dug down,” coach Wayne Kreiger said. “It was a situation where we got tired, but there was enough pride in these kids that they were able to pick it up.”
Kreiger, a Hall of Fame coach who took over the program this season when his son, Scott, switched over to coach the boys team, called a timeout. Wayne Kreiger has been coaching 43 years. He knows a thing or two about regaining momentum.
He calmed his girls. He switched senior Aaliyah Gaines to the top of a 1-2-2 pressure defense. He prompted his players into thinking about what they were going to do next rather than what they'd been doing wrong.
Gaines is rather slight of build but brings intensity and quickness that cause trouble for point guards. She shook things up. Canterbury junior Kindell Fincher scored off an in-bounds play. A few seconds later, Canterbury was back in transition again, with Maggard finding Fincher on the break for the 42-35 final margin.
It was appropriate Fincher scored the final two buckets. She finished with a team-high 17 points and a Class A-record 19 rebounds. Canterbury's Tabitha Gerardot had set and tied the record of 17.
So that's how Canterbury finished – with a fresh, sleek set of tires, fully loaded.
The champion looked into the face of defeat and accelerated.
“During that lull, like coach said, he called timeout and kind of got our minds in the right place so we could come out and put the pedal to the metal,” Farley said. “I thought we eased up a little bit when we could have kept pushing and pushing our lead.”
Maybe the Cavaliers eased up. It seemed as though the 10-foot-longer floor might have driven some fatigue into the mix, too. Or maybe it's as simple as the fact that when you're in a title game, 14-point leads shouldn't be easy to hold. After all, Vincennes Rivet had claimed the one state title Canterbury didn't win over the last six years (2011).
The Cavaliers (25-3) will move up to Class 2A next season, but they will do so with a nice foundation returning in Fincher, Maggard (11 points), Smith (10 rebounds), Emma Hyndman and Rachel Hoagburg. Farley, Gaines and Sarah Rice are the only seniors.
“This is my first (title),” Kreiger said. “These people have done a great job in the past, obviously, (and) my son is a big part of that, winning four of the five. These people have it ingrained that we just expect to win.”
Expecting to win doesn't guarantee winning easily, as Canterbury learned Saturday. But, as the Cavs proved, true champions always find a way.
CANTERBURY 42, VINCENNES RIVET 35
Canterbury 18 12 6 6 — 42
Vincennes Rivet 11 5 12 7 — 35
Canterbury: Bailey Farley 3-12 0-0 6, Kindell Fincher 7-19 3-4 17, Emma Hyndman 0-2 0-0 0, Darby Maggard 5-12 0-0 11, Aaliyah Gaines 1-10 2-2 4, Rachel Hoagburg 0-0 0-0 0, Katherine Smith 2-4 0-2 4. Totals 18-59 5-8 42.
Rivet: Lauren Herman 3-14 3-4 9, Allyson Wehrheim 2-7 0-0 5, Bailey Dreiman 1-9 0-2 11, Makala Emmons 0-1 0-0 0, Kelsey Ivers 7-15 1-2 17, Payton Meeks 0-2 0-0 0, Katie Donovan 1-4 0-0 2, Carly Waggoner 0-1 0-0 0, Vanessa Heinz 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey Niehaus 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 14-54 4-8 35.
Three-point goals: C/1-13 (Maggard 1-4, Fincher 0-2, Gaines 0-3, Farley 0-4), VR/3-15 (Ivers 2-4, Wehrheim 1-4, Emmons 0-1, Donovan 0-1, Waggoner 0-1, Dreiman 0-2). Rebounds: C/45 (Fincher 19, Smith 10, Farley 7), VR/41. Assists: C/6 (Fincher 2, Gaines 2, Maggard, Hoagburg), VR/7. Steals: C/9 (Maggard 3, Fincher 2, Farley, Hyndman, Gaines, Hoagburg), VR/4. Blocks: C/3 (Smith 2, Fincher), VR/4. Turnovers: C/10, VR/14. Total fouls: C/8, VR/9