VALPARAISO — Penn picked the perfect time to pick it up Saturday night.
In the process, by picking up the defense in the second half, the Kingsmen picked up a regional championship.
The No. 3 Kingsmen heeded their coach’s wishes and responded in championship form in the final 16 minutes of the Class 4-A Valparaiso Regional title tilt.
Penn shook off a sluggish first half to turn back Chesterton, 52-43, to claim the program’s fourth regional crown and first since 1999.
Alex Morton scored 15 points and Olivia Carlton and Tori Milliner each added 14 to pace Penn.
The Kingsmen (22-1) advance to face No. 4 McCutcheon (25-1) in the semistate next Saturday. The time and location of that contest will be announced by the IHSAA Sunday. The game will be played at either North Side Gym in Elkhart or in Warsaw.
Penn, which beat Chesterton 88-52 at Penn on Nov. 20, trailed 25-21 at halftime, and outscored the Trojans 16-8 in the fourth quarter. Milliner scored six points, Morton five and Carlton hit a clutch 3-pointer with 2:00 left to give her team a six-point lead and breathing room.
Penn hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final frame to finish 17 of 22 for the game, well above its 64 percent rate on the season. Morton hit 3 of 4 in the final minute to seal the victory.
“I don’t know what to say,’’ responded Morton. “We all just wanted this so badly. It means a ton to us. I just tried to not think about it too much on those free throws and focus like it was every day in practice.’’
Carlton hit her huge 3-pointer after Morton misfired on one. Ashley Lutz got the rebound passed to a wide open Carlton.
“It was a great hustle play by my teammate to get me the ball,’’ Carlton said. “I could feel it when I shot it. We just played our game. We decided to pick up the intensity in the second half.’’
Penn started so slow. The Kingsmen trailed 11-8 after going over six minutes to start the game without a field goal. Chesterton methodically led 25-21 at halftime, thanks to an 8-2 run.
Penn turned up its defensive pressure in the third period with more traps, forcing Chesterton into eight turnovers. The Kingsmen outscored the Trojans 15-10 to take a 36-35 lead into the final frame.
“The girls picked it up defensively in the second half,’’ said Penn coach Kristi Kaniewski. “We were sluggish and in slow motion the first half. We wanted to play a faster tempo from the start. We just didn’t do it.
“We’re a very versatile team and on any given night anyone can step up for us. That’s what makes this group so special. Olivia’s 3 was a huge shot. She’s hit a lot of big shots in the tourney.’’
Brooke Gardner scored 14 and Claire Holba 12 for Chesterton (16-9).
Penn elimnates Elkhart Memorial
VALPARAISO - Penn’s “Sister Act’’ of Ashley and Taylor Lutz played to rave reviews Saturday morning.
The two were the difference-makers as No. 3 Penn held off No. 2 Elkhart Memorial for a thrilling 36-34 victory in semifinal play of the Class 4-A Valparaiso Regional.
The Lutzes, who combined for 26 points, were just enough to send Penn (21-1) to its second win in 12 days over the Crimson Chargers and into the regional title game Saturday night against Chesterton.
Senior Ashley scored all 15 of her points in the second half and Taylor tallied 11. Memorial’s Akyah Taylor finished her brilliant prep career with a 12-point, 15-rebound effort for the Chargers (23-2). Brionna Barnett added 11 for Memorial, which had its season end in the regional for the eighth straight season.
Penn led 35-34 after a pair of Barnett free throws with 2:43 to play. The Kingsmen then turned the ball over with 1:57 left before Memorial gave it back with 35 seconds left on a traveling call. Penn turned it back to the Chargers with 21 seconds to play. Memorial tried to set up a last shot, but Taylor lost the ball with 1.6 seconds to play and Taylor Lutz grabbed it.
The younger Lutz, a sophomore guard, hit the first of two free throws to make it 36-34 with 1.6 ticks left. She missed the second, but Taylor’s desperation heave from three-quarters court fell well short.
“We were not ready to be done,’’ said Ashley Lutz, who scored all 12 of her team’s points in the third quarter. “I was so happy when Taylor came up with that steal. I knew it wasn’t over, but it was so exciting. I just happened to have the hot hand in the third quarter and my teammates got me the ball.’’
“Ashley and Taylor were both tremendous,’’ said Penn coach Kristi Kaniewski. “They wore their emotions on their sleeves and were ready to get it done. We stayed composed. We were able to answer when they made a little scoring spurt on us. The girls stuck to our gameplan and held steady in an emotional roller coaster game.’’
Penn held Memorial, which was averaging 64.5 points a game, to its lowest total of the season.
“We were looking for Akyah, Penn defended it well and we bumped into each other and lost the ball,’’ said Memorial coach Larry Fielstra of the Chargers’ final possession. “Penn outexecuted us. The two keys were that we missed too many easy shots in the first half and we forced too many shots in the second. We acted like we were down 20.”
Other area Girls Regionals:
Class 2A: Culver Community advances to semi-state
2A Regional Semis: Culver 44, Wheeler 42: Culver’s leading scorer Gwen Zehner did not have a field goal through three quarters, but scored seven points in the fourth for the Cavaliers. Whitney Sanders led Culver with 10 points, Patrice McBee and Gwen Zehner each scored eight and Nickole Finch scored a game-high 18 in the loss for Wheeler (13-10).
2A Regional Semis: Fairfield 29, Garrett 25: In the early semifinal, Haley Bechtel scored a game-high 15 points and the Falcons limited No. 4 Garrett (22-3) to just nine first half points.
2A Regional Finals: Culver 37, Fairfield 33: Gwen Zehner scored 12 points and Patrice McBee added 11 and Culver defeated Fairfield, 37-33, in the Class 2-A Culver Regional championship game to advance to next week’s semistate. Haley Bechtel led Fairfield with 18 points.
Class A: West Central, Triton fall in Regional Semis
Bowman Academy 49, West Central 41: In the early semifinal, Princess German scored 19 points and RaShawnda Dunlap added 13 and Bowman (17-7) outscored No. 10 West Central 16-7 in the second quarter to take a 12-point halftime lead (29-17). Marrissa Hamilton scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Justine Kruger added 13 points for West Central, which finishes the season with an 18-5 mark.
F.W. Canterbury 71, Triton 36: In the afternoon semifinal, Bailey Farley scored 19 points, Kindell Fincher 18 and Matte Troxel 12 and No. 3 Canterbury (21-2) jumped out to a 45-11 halftime lead. Morgan Howdeshell led Triton (13-10) with 12 points and Emily Duff added 10.
CLASS 3-A: Culver Academies, Wawasee fall in Semis
Griffith 49, Culver Academies 46: Sammi Adams hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left for Griffith (16-6). Kelsey Bonweits led Griffith with 13 points. Andrijana Cvitkovic and Kylee Shipley each scored 13 for Culver Academy (17-7) which was unable to get off a shot in its last possession.F.W. Concordia 41, Wawasee 27: Wawasee (15-7) was outscored 21-9 through the second and third quarters and saw its season ended by the Cadets (17-7). Kilee Knafel led Wawasee with 11 points.