SHARPSVILLE, Ind. – For the first time in 16 years, the Union City girls basketball team can call themselves Regional Champions.
The Lady Indians won the title Saturday night with a 59-39 victory over Riverton Parke. After knocking out Tri-Central 53-41 in the semifinals of a regional rematch earlier in the day, Union City advanced to the championship game for a second time in as many seasons.
With the stands packed with fans, the atmosphere was electric from the onset of the IHSAA Class 1A Regional Championship between Union City (22-4) and Riverton Parke (23-4).
From the tip, both teams pressured defensively while trying to keep the score advantage early on. Hitting two momentum-building threes, junior guard Justiss Cantu helped the Lady Indians hold a slight edge with a 15-13 lead heading into the second quarter.
Holding the Lady Panthers’ scoring threat, Tayler Vauters, in-check again in the second period, Union City went on a 14-8 run and extended their lead to 29-21 at the half.
“We tried some things defensively that seemed to work and kept her (Vauters) from beating us,” said UC head coach Sarah Black. “She is a very good player and finds her way to the basket. For the most part we did what we needed to do defensively to be able to stop their drive and putting up more points on us.”
A third quarter run by Vauters and the Lady Panthers chipped away at the UC lead, until senior Kelsey Zimmers drained two of her five three-pointers to help keep the Lady Indians in command by 10 – headed into the the final eight minutes.
They say defense wins championships, and the Lady Indians proved that in the fourth quarter, holding the Lady Panthers to just two points. UC won in convincing fashion with a 20-point victory and punched their ticket to the final four as the student section chanted, “Semi-State…Semi-State…Semi-State!”
“We told the girls we needed to win every quarter and we did that tonight…which was huge,” said Coach Black. “We finished hard with a great run in the end.”
Senior Kelsey Zimmers led the way in scoring with 20 points, that included five three-pointers. Junior Justiss Cantu followed with 17 and seniors Courtney Wise and Baylee Hartman added 10 points each in the championship win.
“Anytime we have four girls in double figures that is a great thing,” added Black. “We have a lot of talented girls and all get along so great – which carries onto the court. I couldn’t be more proud of each one of them!”
The first time Union City claimed a regional title was in 2001, when Coach Black was a sophomore guard on the team. Though this was the second Regional Championship, this is the only time in school history the girls basketball program has made it to the state tournament final four.
When asked how they felt about winning regional, here are what some of the Union City players told The Early Bird…
Courtney Wise (senior) – “It feels amazing to reach our team goals and to know our season isn’t over yet…Revenge is sweet!”
Baylee Hartman (senior) – “It’s a great feeling to know that we aren’t done yet and are making history! The uglier it gets…the better we get!”
Kelsey Zimmers (senior) – “Best feeling in the world. Wouldn’t feel half as good without my best friends and God on my side!”
Kora Kerns (senior) – “Some teams dream of winning a Sectional, it’s no comparison to winning a Regional. We aren’t done yet!”
Justiss Cantu (junior) – “There’s no other feeling like it. It feels so good to get redemption!”
Ellie Kerns (junior) – “Its a dream come true with a dream team!”
Union City (23-4) will match-up on Saturday against a tough Marquette Catholic (21-5) team. The semi-state game will be held at Logansport High School (get directions) at 4 p.m. The winner will play for a IHSAA Class A State Championship on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Follow and learn more about Lady Indians Basketball on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UnionCityLadyIndiansBasketball.
INDIANS 59, PANTHERS 39
UC – 15-14-18-12 (59)
RP – 13-08-16-02 (39)
Video of the team and Asst. Coach Keith Fields having some fun doing the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ following the Regional Championship win