5 things to watch for
Homestead girls look for state title

Saturday’s season finale between Indianapolis Pike and Homestead will close out the 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 Indianapolis North Central. With it all on the line Saturday at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, here are five things to watch for: <br>

<center> 1. Closing out on shooters </center><br>

Pike doesn’t shoot the ball at a particularly stellar rate. It hits 10.5 percent fewer of its shots than Homestead does and 15.5 percent fewer of its three-point shots. But when Pike heats up, it can be very dangerous, especially if it is in 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 49 percent 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. <br>

<center> 2. Depth inside</center> <br>

If the Jazmyne Geist from semistate play opposite Northfield shows up, then count this area to Homestead’s advantage. But Pike junior Michaela White is a serious scorer inside, averaging 11.3 points and nine rebounds per outing. If Pike manages to get Geist in foul trouble, something many teams attempt, Sydney Graber, Bri Lucas and Swing are going to need to play wise beyond their years. To the Spartans’ advantage, they have four players listed at 6-foot, compared to one for Pike. But they will all need to stay tough against White and 5-11 Kinnidy Garrard. <br>

<center> 3. Play like you’ve been here before </center><br>

While the Homestead senior class was 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. Being better poised and less pressured on Saturday will be critical in helping the Spartans start fast against a quick Pike team. Pike has not been here before, making this 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 semistate 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. <br>

<center> 4. Passion on the sideline </center><br>

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 pivotal in establishing Homestead’s winning ways. Parker wants to win this game the most, and the Spartan girls will need to feed off of his enthusiasm and desire. <br>

<center> 5. The McLaughlin factor </center><br>

Is there any bigger factor in this game than the Miss Basketball candidate? The Spartans have succeeded even when Karissa 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.