By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – The last time, in early January, with the postseason a distant dream, Castle stormed Bedford North Lawrence’s castle, pillaging its way to a preview victory.
The Stars will seek revenge and a championship in the rematch when they face the Knights in the Class 4A regional final on Saturday night. The winner will advance to the one-game semistate at either Jasper or Jeffersonville on Feb. 16.
BNL (23-5) was ranked a season-high 6th for the first clash when Castle (22-4) quieted the Stars, blasting to a 56-51 victory. BNL is making noise again, with seven straight wins following the semifinal dismantling of favored Center Grove. The Stars are playing their best basketball of the season, and they will need it.
“I want to keep winning because I feel like we’re getting better,” BNL coach Jeff Allen said. “Every game we get better, so I want to continue to play. I think the kids do, too. We’re looking forward to tonight.”
BNL has something to prove in this second clash. The Stars struggled on the perimeter that night, with the guards combining to hit 3 of 16 shots. Castle raced to a 25-11 lead with a 16-2 burst in the first half, and the Stars could not recover.
“That game has zero bearing on tonight,” Castle coach Bob Meier said. “We have to compete like we did against Bloomington South. If we do that, we have a chance. If we don’t, we probably don’t have a chance.”
Castle stopped South 56-45 in Saturday’s second semifinal, avenging a regular-season loss as Jessica Nunge, a Div. I volleyball recruit headed for Florida State, scored 21 points and freshman Natalie Niehaus added 17. That pair did a lot of damage against BNL as well, with Niehaus totaling 18 and Nunge 15.
BNL will counter with its inside duo of Jorie Allen (20 points in the first meeting) and Madison Webb (13). Meier watched with great interest as Allen scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to pace BNL past Center Grove in the regional opener.
The Nunge-Allen, head-to-head clash should be an outstanding battle. But the Stars will need contributions from others – which they didn’t get the first time.
“Nunge on Allen, that’s just good stuff,” Meier said. “As far as Miss Webb, we tell our kids to just go fight and help-side enough to challenge her a little bit. You just hope they miss some shots along the way.
“We’re playing with a lot of heart. The question I ask is did you give everything you had. If it’s a yes, then we’ll live with it. If it’s no, we should do something different.”
BNL is the defending regional champion. The Stars are seeking their 13th title.
“Castle is a very physical, great defensive team,” Allen said. “This is a tough regional. Castle is really good. We’ll have to play with the same intensity, patience and toughness that we’ve had over the last several games. It’s going to be a war.”
The survivor will meet Lawrence North or Ben Davis in the semistate. No.10 Lawrence North (20-6) crushed Mooresville 42-22 in the regional opener at Decatur Central, while Ben Davis (17-8) decked Mount Vernon (Fortville) 52-32 in the second contest.
CLASS 4A REGIONAL
CASTLE at BNL
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Castle 22-4; BNL 23-5
Sagarin ratings: Castle 89.68; BNL 92.76
Last meeting: On Jan. 5 at BNL, the Knights stopped the Stars 56-51. Natalie Niehaus had 18 points and Jessica Nunge totaled 15 for Castle. Jorie Allen had 20 points and Madison Webb totaled 13 for the Stars
Game notes: Castle has won three regional titles in school history, the last in 2006. BNL conquered Castle in the 2014 and 2012 regionals.
F – Jessica Nunge 6-2 Sr.
G – Natalie Niehaus 5-9 Fr.
G – McKenna Tutt 5-6 Sr.
G – Josie Freeman 5-7 Jr.
G – Hannah Hood 5-7 Sr.
Bedford NL Stars
F – Jorie Allen 6-1 Sr.
C – Madison Webb 6-2 Jr.
G – Chloe McKnight 5-8 So.
G – Jacy Hughes 5-7 Sr.
G – Gracie Crulo-Rood 5-5 Jr.