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Future of girls basketball looks bright in Grant County

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

When my head hit the pillow Friday night, I had a vision of covering two of my teams at the same place on the same day battling for semistate championships. 

The IHSAA made that a possibility when it instituted class basketball and there was a realistic possibility of it happening Saturday with the girls basketball teams from Marion and Oak Hill. I sincerely believed it. 

But anybody that's followed Indiana high school state basketball for any considerable amount of time knows how the tournament works -- anything can happen.

Results can be surprising, and I'm certain most people around the state were surprised to see Frankton had toppled top-ranked Oak Hill in the 2A Greentown Regional. After watching the Golden Eagles for two full seasons, I was surprised. I would have been completely stunned if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

It was the same with the Giants in Columbia City on Saturday morning. 

I broke a Cardinal Rule -- judging a book by its cover -- after watching Hamilton Heights go through warmups. I told local radio legends Jim Brunner and Steve Mortiz the Giants would win easily. Then I sat and watched the Huskies do something no one had done all season, keep the ball out of the hands of Ra Shaya Kyle and Jazmyn Turner near the basket. 

Moritz gave me a side-eye at halftime as I sat preparing my big plate of crow for consumption.

In both instances, I was truly disappointed.

Covering the Giants and Golden Eagles Saturday in Logansport would have been fun. The atmosphere in the Berry Bowl when Oak Hill won its semistate title there last year was one of the best experiences I've had the last two seasons.

My disappointment wasn't for my lost opportunity though, I believe the same scenario could possibly play out next season for the Giants and Golden Eagles. I was disappointed for my teams, the players and coaches.

The Giants and Golden Eagles are both my teams. So are the Indians, Argylls and Panthers.

Watching all their seasons end was disappointing. When you see and hear about the effort and dedication that coaches and players have put in through the summer and season, and you see that translate into growth on the basketball court, it's impossible to not be a fan. 

All five Grant County girls teams gave maximum effort and experienced a good amount of growth this season, and what's even more exciting is all five will return a strong core of players. 

Some outstanding players will graduate this spring: Mississinewa's Erika Foy and Holli Greer, Madison-Grant's Danyelle Hutson and Maddi Evans, Oak Hill's Kristin Dubois and Auja Smith, Marion's Del'Rea and Del'Reann Horton and Kaylynn Scher. 

But the future of Grant County girls basketball looks bright.

Eastbrook's youthful team, with just two juniors, three sophomores and two freshman, grew as much as any team under coach Jeff Liddick. The Panthers won nine games, including a sectional game, and showed immeasurable improvement from season's beginning to end.

Madison-Grant was finding its stride when Hutson, the Argylls' heartbeat, suffered a knee injury just a couple of weeks before the tournament. M-G coach Elizabeth Garrasi had her underclassmen rally around Evans, and it took a buzzer-beater by Eastern in sectional to end the Argylls' season.  

Omega Tandy infused her passion and energy into a very young Mississinewa team and had it playing its best basketball entering the tourney before Foy's season ended a month early to knee surgery.

Marion's turnaround under Lawrence Jordan was simply amazing. The Giants went from five wins in 2017 to only five losses and a sectional championship, the first for Marion since 1997, in 2018.

Oak Hill had only two seniors in its nine-player rotation, and Todd Law's Golden Eagles played all season like the best 2A team in Indiana.

Part of the problem the Giants and Golden Eagles ran into in the regional involved seniors.

Hamilton Heights played just six players, three of which will graduate this spring. They played with poise and confidence, and it helped to frustrate the Giants.

Frankton's two seniors, Evansville-bound guard Sydney Tucker along with 6-foot-1, strong and athletic Destyne Knight, played like two players that weren't ready to have their high school careers come to an end. It was the third game I'd seen Frankton play in two seasons, and I didn't recognize Knight's game from the previous two contests. She played motivated and angry. 

Oak Hill played with its trademark intensity and did most of the things it had done all season to win games. But Frankton was just a little bit better on Saturday, and suddenly the Eagles look like a team of destiny and Destyne in the 2A final four. 

As a journalist -- an objective observer and storyteller -- I can't outwardly root for my teams at games. But know this, on Saturday my insides were churning away as time was slipping away for the Giants and Golden Eagles. 

It was a fun season covering girls basketball in Grant County, and if all my teams are motivated during the offseason, the best is yet to come.