Saturday's season finale between Pike and Homestead will close out girls basketball season. The Spartans have steadily been the team to watch all year and have peaked with big time performances in the postseason. They will face a Pike team with a lot of momentum still gathered from a Regional title overtime win over North Central. With it all on the line Saturday at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, here are five things to watch for:
1. Closing out on shooters
Pike doesn't shoot the ball at a particularly stellar rate, hit 10.5 percent less of their shots than Homestead does and 15.5 percent less of their three-point shots. But when Pike heats up, they can be very dangerous, especially if it is on the hands of leading scorer Angel Baker, who shoots nearly as well from deep (47 percent) as she does from the field (49 percent). Madisen Parker is the only Spartan who matches Baker from deep and it would take Homestead's only 49 percent from the field shooters Teryn Kline and Haley Swing to combine for 1/4 of the made baskets Baker has. When the ball is in Baker's hands, defensive spacing is not an option.
2. Depth inside
3. Play like you've been here before
While the Homestead senior class were just sophomores when the Spartans lost in 2015's state finals, there is at least some experience at this level, but also a multitude of experience in big games. The better poised and less pressured the Spartans feel on Saturday will be critical in starting fast against a quick Pike team. Pike has not been here before, making the first state final game in school history a year after they weren't allowed to play in the postseason because of an in-season brawl with Ben Davis.
That pressure that existed two years ago in the state finals or even last year in a semi-state loss to Penn should be non-existent for Homestead. They've been in big games, more just in this postseason than many teams are ever in. They've also played for titles. In the last two years, Homestead has earned nine titles so they know how to play in these games. Tempo is everything, not just physically, but emotionally and psychologically.
4. Passion on the sideline
It may be too easy to say that it will be less difficult for Homestead coach Rod Parker to get up for this one than Robert Angela on the Pike sideline. A year ago, Angela was working a day job, retired from coaching and going to Pike's first state title game wasn't even a distant pipe dream. Parker, on the other hand, has been inches from grasping that golden ring, only to fall short the past two years. This is far from Homestead's last brush with glory, but it does signal the final game for a senior class that has been pivital in establishing Homestead's winning way. Parker wants to win this game the most and the Spartan girls will need to feed off of his enthusiasm and desire.
5. The Karissa McLaughlin factor
Is there any bigger factor in this game than the Miss Basketball candidate? The Spartans have succeeded even when McLaughlin has had an off, for her, night. But this game likely isn't and really can't be one of those nights. McLaughlin has been built for this big stage and is arguably the most talented girl who will be playing on Saturday at Bankers Life, regardless of class. She comes in as the only state finals player on any of the eight teams averaging more than 20 points per game (25.8 to be exact) and her 5.6 assists per game also ranks first of all state final players. This is a night that Homestead has built for themselves, but undoubtedly a moment that should belong to McLaughlin.