Central Noble girls basketball relying on experience in return to semi state round

Central Noble freshman Bridgette Gray brings the ball up the court during practice. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Central Noble girls basketball coach Josh Treesh yells out instructions during a practice earlier this week. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Central Noble junior, leading scorer Sydney Freeman, looks to make a pass during practice. (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)
Central Noble freshman Lydia Andrews launches a three during practice earlier this week (Photo by Dan Vance of news-sentinel.com)

Anything should be easier the second time around.

That is something that the Central Noble girls basketball team is banking on Saturday when they return to Logansport Semistate.

A year ago, a fresh-faced Cougars program was coming off their program’s first-ever regional title when they ran into a freight train of an Oak Hill program that only lost twice, including the state title game. Central Noble lost that game 42-33.

But fueled by a new desire and the two best scorers in program history in juniors Sydney Freeman and Meleah Leatherman, the Cougars are back again and ready to give the “Berry Bowl” another test, this time opposite Frankton.

“I think it’s going to be an easier atmosphere. Four of our girls back played in the semistate last year. I think it is a calming factor when you bring in all those crowds. It’s going to be a packed house there at the Berry Bowl gym,” Central Noble coach Josh Treesh said. “Both teams are going to come out with a lot of energy and then that energy is going to die off. I think our girls are used to that now and they’ve adjusted to it since they’ve played in it.”

It hasn’t been a completely smooth return for the Cougars. They did lose a few seniors from last year’s record-breaking squad and have lost more games this year than they did last. Three of their five losses came right inside their own conference, but that isn’t exactly something to be ashamed of. Only the Northeast Corner Conference, home to the Cougars and Fairfield, will send more than one team into the semistate round.

“I think we have one of the toughest conferences in Indiana. I think it that it is good to prepare us for the postseason,” Freeman said.

When the Cougars play Frankton on Saturday afternoon, they will be doing so with momentum, as any team would be at this point. But they will also be doing so with confidence in being able to live up to lofty expectations. A year ago, the focus was on winning and stretching a dream season as far as it could go. Those hopes did not and have not changed. But once they did win in 2017, expectations shifted. Be it in the school, in the community or just within their own gym, expectations were raised. Central Noble in 2018 hasn’t been just a team trying to get back to semistate, it is a team that should get back to semistate.

“Last year, it was all new for us and this year there was a lot of pressure because people expected us to do it,” senior Calista Rice said.

“I think I did a bad job for one-fourth of the season with these girls dealing with those expectations. I was talking to them about the expectations and how they have to handle it,” Treesh added. “I think it finally happened in January when we sat down as a team to talk about things and what we need to do to go forward and it’s amazing how we clicked.”

Midway through the month of January, the Cougars dropped back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two years. After losing to Angola in the NECC Tournament and getting blown out at Fairfield, something did click as Treesh says.

Central Noble has not lost since.

Now, the Cougars are riding seven straight wins into the weekend. Seven wins make you comfortable. Being here before makes you comfortable.

Comfort also comes in the hands of Freeman and Leatherman. The pair marks the most prolific scoring duo in the program’s history, becoming just the second and third players to ever pass 1,000 career points and the first teammates to do so in the same season. Freeman sits just 14 points away from becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer and Leatherman is just 29 points all-time behind her teammate.

“It’s a coach’s dream. You have a point guard that can break down about every defense and get girls wide-open shots and then you’ve got a big inside that can use post moves to score or she can she can put it on the floor and do some things,” Treesh said.

Freeman is averaging 17.8 points to go with gaudy numbers like 4.8 assists and five steals per contest. Leatherman is scoring 14.8 points and pulling down 9.8 rebounds per game.

“I don’t know how you stop both of them and teams haven’t been able to stop both of them. They’ve made every girl in our program better and want to work harder in the summer and the spring to have this opportunity.”

The duo is far from alone. Central Noble has a unique blend of being experienced and being young. Behind just one senior, the Cougars will return the majority of this team again next year and will face more extended expectations — expectations built on the skills of Freeman, Leatherman and plenty of other faces.

Rice, the lone senior, has been a major contributor, as have sophomore Samantha Brumbaugh and freshmen Bridgette Gray and Lydia Andrews. Each is averaging between four and four and a half points per game, but their real impact has come through their defense and adding multiple consistent ball handlers outside of Freeman.

“Calista was obviously a big-time player for us last year and she is a big-time player for us this year. We expect a lot out of a senior,” Treesh said. “You add Sam in there, who is a sophomore, she doesn’t look as rattled as she did last year and we saw that at Winamac (in the regional). You talk about now, you bring in Bridgette and you bring in Lydia, who are freshmen, who have never been in this experience before, I thought they handled themselves very well at regional.”

“I think a lot of the girls were already up with us (returners) because we practice hard in the summer, so I don’t think we struggled as much with that part,” Rice added. “I think we have an advantage against Frankton because we do know what to expect.”

What to expect against Frankton is a team that likes to put up plenty of jump shots. Led by seniors Sydney Tucker and Destyne Knight, the Eagles have put up 100 more three-pointers than Central Noble this year, hitting 34 percent to the Cougars’ 31 percent.

“I think we are one of the best teams in the semistate; I think we are one of the best teams in the state defensively. I don’t know that Frankton has necessarily seen that yet. We are going to make it as difficult as possible for them to shoot. They love to shoot threes and we are going to chase them off that line the best we can and turn them into drivers, make them attack the basket,” Treesh said.

With a game plan in place and comfort surrounding them, this should be easier. Things are always easier the second time around.

Tip-off at Logansport is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday.