A late comeback effort fell short, as University’s season came to an end Saturday afternoon, falling 66-57 to No. 4 Jac-Cen-Del in the regional semi-final.
After a tight first quarter, Jac-Cen-Del (21-4) opened up some breathing room in the second quarter, as the Eagles stretched a 15-11 quarter-time lead to a 21-14 advantage with 5:42 to play in the half. University (18-8) clawed back, though, going on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 23-23, then answering a Jac-Cen-Del bucket to knot the game back up at 25-25. The Trailblazers never did recover the lead, though, as the Eagles closed the half with a 5-0 spurt to lead 30-25.
The Trailblazers got the opening bucket of the second half when Lucy Snyder scored on an assist from Lily Snyder on the first possession, but Jac-Cen-Del soon took control of the game, going on a 6-0 run to open up a 36-27 advantage two minutes into the second half. That Jac-Cen-Del lead grew to 48-33 with 2:21 left in the half, before settling at 52-38 to close the third quarter.
The Eagles scored to open the fourth, 54-38, pacing them to their biggest lead of the game — but the Trailblazers kept chipping away at that lead, going on a 14-3 run over the next four minutes to draw within five. Lucy Snyder, who scored 19 of her game-best 21 in the second half to keep her team in the game, started the run with a bucket at 7:28. Brooke Andrus followed with two free throws just over a minute later to cut it to 54-42 before Jac-Cen-Del stretched the lead back out to 14 on the next possession. Lucy Snyder answered with a 3-pointer to bring the deficit back to 11, then Lindsey Syrek cut it to double digits with 5:17 to play on two made free throws.
Jac-Cen-Del pushed the lead back to 10, but Lucy Snyder rose for University, scoring five straight points — an and-1 capping her own mini-run — to close the gap to 57-52 with 3:52 left.
University never got closer, though. The Trailblazers twice had the ball down five, but turned it over both times. After the teams traded points, the lead was down to five again at 59-54 — but Jac-Cen-Del made enough free throws down the stretch to finish out the 66-57 win.
The Eagles’ game plan was to neutralize University’s biggest threats, and it worked well to get them to the championship game. Jac-Cen-Del blanketed Trailblazers guard Natalie Nickless all game, and it showed on the stats sheet, as University’s lone senior closed out her high school career with just five points. Syrek, a sophomore forward and the team’s leading scorer, had things working in the first half with 10 points, but Jac-Cen-Del limited her damage in the second half — the Eagles collapsed on Syrek in the paint, who scored her only five points of the second half in transition.
But during a tournament run where it felt like a different player stepped up every night, it felt fitting that it was junior forward Lucy Snyder’s 21-point effort that kept her Trailblazers hanging around. Like Syrek, Andrus made a first-half impact, but was limited in the second half — the junior guard scored eight in the first half, but only two after the break, spending a significant amount of Jac-Cen-Del’s third-quarter run on the bench with three fouls.
Senior guard Lilly Simon paced the Eagles with a 20-point effort, while junior guard Marian Day and senior forward Morgen Carroll each pitched in 10. Those three were the leading scorers on the year, but the Jac-Cen-Del role players did as much damage. Twice, Dillan Hughes came off the bench to hit key 3-pointers for the Eagles, while the rest of their squad chipped in just enough to stay ahead for most of the afternoon.
The loss closed University’s season, but it was a year that returned the Trailblazers to the regional round at Southwestern (Shelby) for the first time since 2012 — University won sectionals in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, but had gone dry for the last six seasons.
The Trailblazers will graduate second-leading scorer Natalie Nickless, who will continue her basketball career at IU-Kokomo, but should otherwise return the rest of their production. After getting over the hump to win a sectional this year, University will enter the 2018-19 season as one of the favorites in next year’s regional field.
Jac-Cen-Del 66, University 57
University FG FT TP PF
Lindsey Syrek 6 2-2 15 1
Brooke Andrus 3 2-2 10 5
Lily Snyder 2 0-0 4 3
Jhordan McGuire 0 0-0 0 1
Lucy Snyder 8 3-3 21 2
Haley Tomlinson 1 0-0 2 3
Natalie Nickless 1 2-2 5 1
Totals 21 9-9 57 16
Score by Quarters
Jac-Cen-Del 15 15 22 14 – 66
University 11 14 13 19 – 57
University 3-pointers (6) Andrus 2, Lu. Snyder 2, Nickless, Syrek.