Coming off of the ultimate high of winning the school’s first sectional title last winter, Crothersville girls basketball coach Kevin Hensley felt good going into the 2017-18 season.
While there have been some bumps along the way, the Tigers have racked up 12 wins so far this season to just six losses.
The Tigers have a shot at the Southern Athletic Conference title, which they last claimed in 2009, and are preparing for a sectional run in the waning weeks.
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Going into this year’s campaign, Hensley knew the team had big shoes to fill, but he didn’t know some of the challenges that awaited.
Three seniors, all starters, had graduated from the program, including an all-time Crothersville great in Katrina Christian. Christian, now a guard at Eastern Illinois University, broke almost every school record by the time she left the program.
Hensley planned on having four seniors this season on his team, but only one of those players currently is on the roster.
One, a starter from last year, transferred, another didn’t go out for the team, and the third quit partway through the season.
Due to the low numbers, the Tigers had to disband the junior varsity team this year and now have a bench of just three girls.
Hensley said thankfully, there are between eight and nine girls in eighth grade coming up, so they will have two teams again for the 2018-19 season.
While the Tigers lost three players they planned on contributing in major ways this season, they gained a junior transfer from Columbus East that has been an enormous help: Tayler Brewer.
Brewer, 5-foot-11, has been an absolute force for the Tigers, averaging 19.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocks in her first year with the team.
On top of her dominating inside presence, Brewer has brought a wealth of knowledge to the team.
“Tayler has brought a lot of knowledge, which comes from her mom and dad,” Hensley said. “They care about her and her brother (Logan). She understands her role and doesn’t try to go outside it. She’s so tough inside.”
Hensley has said multiple times that his junior class dictates how well they play on the court.
The other two juniors, Piper Hensley and Maddie Riley, have stepped up in a big way, coach Hensley said.
Piper has taken over the majority of the ball-handling responsibilities this season at the point and has continued to prove a deep threat from beyond the arc.
Making six 3-pointers Thursday against Edinburgh, Piper became the all-time leader in 3s made in school history. Piper, who is being recruited by local colleges, currently has 156 for her career with plenty of games ahead of her.
While she’s knocking down treys, coach Hensley has been most impressed with how Piper — who is averaging 14.9 points, 2.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals — has diversified her scoring.
“One thing I’ve noticed about Piper is that a lot of teams are taking her off the 3-point line,” Hensley said. “The really good teams don’t want her shooting 3s like she did last year. Last year, she was able to take more open 3s because of Katrina’s penetration. Now, I’ve noticed she is leading us in free throw attempts and makes. Even though they’re running her off the line, she’s attacking the basket.”
Piper credits Brewer with helping open up the offense.
“Getting Tayler really helped a lot,” Piper said. “Losing Katrina, she was our main driver. We didn’t really have anyone to score in the paint. We’ve been able to get a lot more points from inside the arc because of her.”
Riley, who played in a sixth-man role last season, has turned into one of the Tigers’ most reliable players this season.
This season, she has upped her scoring from 5.6 points per game to 10.2. She also has improved rebounding from 4.5 to 7.3 per game and assists from 1.9 to 3.8 per game.
“Last year, I knew I didn’t necessarily need to score,” Riley said. “I knew that I could pass it to Katrina or Piper and I would be fine. I knew that I needed to contribute more to the scoring part and get more assists.”
If Crothersville beats Henryville and New Washington, the Tigers will have a shot at the SAC title. They just need a loss by South Central down the stretch.
Moving forward, coach Hensley said the team needs to keep its head to win big games.
“I knew coming in that we were going to be young,” he said. “I thought we had some talent to compete with people. Early on, even this past Tuesday, our youth showed. That’s been our biggest trouble, getting our youth up to par; however, we’re getting better. Grace (Wilson) and Bekah (Cook) have been stepping up a little bit at a time. They’re getting there and learning a lot from this experience.”
While Trinity Lutheran and West Washington, both ranked in Class A, are considered the favorites in the sectional this season, coach Hensley said he feels confident in his team.
“We were talking the other night with the girls that we know Trinity and West Washington don’t want to play us because we have nothing to lose,” he said. “They both have senior-laden teams. It puts a lot of pressure on those kids. I think that teams are going to be ready for us, but I think they’re not going to overlook us at the same time. I know we can play with them as long as our youth doesn’t show.”