CROWN POINT, Ind. -- The boos from Logansport’s student section only fueled Jessica Alexander.
In a gym with roughly three Logansport fans for every one Penn loyalist, the Kingsmen embraced the intensity. Even in the final moments of the Class 4-A semistate, Penn refused to flinch as it rallied for a 44-41 victory.
The Kingsmen (25-1) trailed by as many as six points with 4:40 left in the game but closed with a 15-6 run. Alexander scored six of her team-high 13 points during that final stretch.
“Coming out for warm-up, they had a huge crowd and huge support system,” Alexander said. “We take that and we use that. It motivates us so much. Coming out and hearing them kinda boo us, it gave us motivation … We were all so confident coming into this game.”
Trailing 36-31 with 3:47 remaining, Alexander knocked in consecutive baskets to cut the deficit to one. Kaitlyn Marenyi put the Kingsmen ahead by one with 1:46 left and set up a tight finish that required Penn to hit six straight free throws to hold on to the slim margin.
Trailing by two points, Logansport’s Whitney Jennings drove into the lane but was called for an offensive foul. Penn’s Clair Carlton stepped in front to take the charge with 1:19 left. Penn traded free throws — two from Alexander and four from Kamra Solomon — with Logansport baskets to take a 44-41 lead with 20.5 seconds left.
The Iowa-bound Jennings, already with a game-high 23 points, missed on a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left, and Penn corralled the rebound to secure the victory.
“We always believed in each other,” Solomon said. “We knew the whole time we had it.”
Solomon, who played meaningful minutes off the bench, replaced starting guard Lauren Ellenberger — who fouled out after chasing Jennings around all night — late in the fourth quarter. Little did she know that she would be asked to hit four big free throws.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but definitely not like that,” Solomon said. “It’s all about being ready whenever you’re called.”
On a night when the Buhr sisters — Camryn (seven), Caroline (two) — were held to just nine points, the depth of Penn needed to shine.
“Anybody can step up on any given night,” Alexander said. “I think that’s what’s so special about this team. We don’t have just one player who can play.”
Penn rolled to a 12-2 lead at the end of the first quarter by confusing Logansport with a box-and-one defense. Ellenberger mirrored Jennings while the Berries struggled to figure out an offensive strategy.
“I didn’t know what kind of defense they were throwing at me at first,” said Jennings, who called Penn’s defense the best she had seen all season. “It took all of us awhile to adjust. The first quarter was rough, but we picked it up from there.”
Jennings and forward Nakeya Penny lifted Logansport back into the game in the second half. Jennings (23) and Penny (17) scored all but one point for the Berries.
Delaying Jennings’ burst until the second half was crucial for the Kingsmen.
“For the most part, we forced her to take tough, contested shots,” said Penn head coach Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich.” She had to earn everything that she got. We knew we couldn’t stop her. We had to try to contain her as best as possible. We didn’t let any of their other players go off. Penny got hers as well, but no one else for them really stepped up and it wasn’t very balanced.”
An eventually exhausted Ellenberger stepped up to limit Jennings, who came in averaging 32 points.
“My assignment was to stay after her, kinda be a pest and get inside of her head,” Ellenberger said. “Every single time I’m assigned a person, I just wanted to contain her. I knew she would score. She’s a great player.”
Penn notched its 17th straight win since losing in December to Oregon-Davis, which advanced to the Class 1-A state final earlier in the day.
Alexander pointed to that loss as a necessary reality check that has helped spawn a playoff run that will end next Saturday in Terre Haute against Bedford North Lawrence (26-1) with a state championship on the line.
“From then on, this team has really dug in and we’ve really listened to what the coaches tell us and we really took everything to heart,” Alexander said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to this point.”