MISHAWAKA — For a few desperate minutes, it looked like Dana Evans might single-handily spoil Penn's tournament run.
She had already done it a few hours earlier in a 35-point performance against Northridge. But after a quiet three quarters against Penn, the elusive Gary West Side freshman started finding a rhythm.
On Evans's back, the Cougars sliced Penn's 14-point lead down to six early in the fourth quarter. As Gary West (18-4) gained momentum on a flurry of steals and transition points, Evans cocked back for a lethal three-pointer.
And Jess Alexander slammed it right back in her face.
The block echoed around the gym and snapped Penn back into focus. The Kingsmen regained control and finished with a 57-43 win and its third regional crown in four years.
When asked about the rejection, Alexander grinned.
"I was just doing my job and I just so happened to block it like that," she said. "I might have blocked it with a little more authority. I think it turned our negative into a positive because we got the ball back and took control of the game again."
After a 12-12 first quarter, Penn (24-1) held the reins the rest of the game. Sophomore Camryn Buhr paced the Kingsmen with a team-high 17 points, while Alexander tossed in 13. The pair, joined by Caroline Buhr, also frequented at the charity stripe, contributing 18 of Penn's 28 free throws.
Defensively, Lauren Ellenberger was tasked with shutting down Evans. After watching what the freshman did to Northridge earlier in the day, she knew her hands were full Saturday night, Feb. 22.
"We knew that she was a quick guard and that I had to keep her in front and play with a hand extended and off a little bit," the junior guard said. "Overall, I think we shut her down."
For most of the game, Penn did. Evans only had four points at the half and eight after three quarters. She finished with 18 points, seven from the free throw line.
The Kingsmen knew they weren't going to completely keep her quiet. They just wanted to contain her.
"Just to be a pest and try to frustrate her and get in her head," coach Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich said. "Keep her on the perimeter as much as possible."
Though Penn grabbed its third regional title in four years (Warsaw won in 2012), the feeling of winning hasn't been muted by familiarity.
"It''s always this exciting because each time it gets more difficult because the bullseye grows on your back," Kaniewski Ulrich said.
For Alexander and fellow seniors Caroline Buhr and Maya Solomon, their third regional win carried extra significance.
"We feel like, as seniors, this is our team," Alexander said. "It's so bittersweet that we get to play our last game on (Penn's) floor in the regional championship. It's so bittersweet right now."
Penn will play Logansport (24-2) in the girls 4A semistate at Warsaw or Crown Point Saturday, March 1.