The loss to South Side has lingered with Sydney Buck and the Homestead girl's basketball team for a whole year. Not just the feeling of defeat, but how it happened.
Last year, in the IHSAA Class 4A Girl's Basketball Sectional final against South Side, Homestead watched as the Archers made free throws with 2.5 seconds left to beat the Spartans and move on to regionals. This year, No. 3 Homestead was thinking of that game when they took down the Archers 79-70 in the Sectional 6 final at South Side.
"That's been our motivation since the end of that game last year," Sydney Buck said. "That's the reason we've worked so hard in the offseason. It was definitely in the back of our minds, and I'm glad it didn't come down to free throws at the end."
Getting the win for Homestead didn't come in its usual fashion. Owning an average win margin of more than 32 points a game this year, the Spartans were pushed the whole way.
If there was any worry about how it would respond to the pressure and adversity it answered those questions as Homestead got big free throws, stops and baskets every time the Archers pulled within a few points.
"We talked to our kids that this game here at South Side is a regional type game; this is a big game in our area in this sectional," Homestead coach Rod Parker said. "Last year it went down to the final second, this year it went down to the final minute, and we have to expect it. We're excited to get it, it's a big win for us, and I think it's going to help us going into next week to play a game like
Just as important for Homestead is that it wasn't just the returning veterans that rose to the challenge. Three times in the fourth quarter South Side pulled the game to within four points and every team the Spartans had an answer.
The first time it was Buck answering the call by drilling a 3-pointer to expand the lead again. The next two times, though, it was freshman Karissa McLaughlin coming up big at the foul line. In the fourth quarter McLaughlin went 10-for-10 at the free throw line to keep the Homestead lead by more than one possession. With all the free throws, McLaughlin led the Spartans in scoring with 28 points, and Buck contributed 22 points.
"You know, it was just my teammates encouraging me that these free throws are going to matter in order for us to win this game," McLaughlin said. "So, I just concentrated and made them."
South Side's only lead in the game came at 10-9 in the first quarter, but it tested Homestead throughout. The Spartans never led by more than nine points until the final seconds. A large part of this was the inside play of South Side's Brittni Clopton. She routinely attacked the Spartans inside as she finished with 29 points.
Even with her strong play the Archers never could quite overcome the Spartans strong shooting.
"You know, it was that second quarter when we lost track of the shooters and (Homestead) hit three threes in a row," South Side coach Juanita Goodwell said. "Difference in the game is nine points. Down nine points at half, is what we lost by."
For Homestead, it is hopeful this tight game will help it prep for a long postseason run. The Spartans next step starts against No. 14 Fishers in the first round of the Kokomo Regional.
"I think that game prepared them (South Side last year), so we are hoping something like this game helps us prepare," Parker said. "We are excited for next week. These kids have had big goals ever since we lost last year returning all five starters. (We're) sitting at 23-1 now. They've responded to most every challenge we've thrown at them so I know they are going to be very focused next week."