CROWN POINT — Dig in, dig in, dig in.
The call came from the middle of the Penn huddle. A loud and encouraging reminder that the Kingsmen have been here before, that they knew how to handle this.
Penn had just watched a 12-point lead evaporate by the end of the third quarter. Logansport opened the fourth quarter with six points in 50 seconds to go up 33-27.
Dig in, the seniors called and the rest of the team echoed.
"We've been in situations like this before," coach Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich said. "We play a tough schedule. There's a reason for that. So when we find ourselves in crunch time, and we’ve got to battle back, we know we're capable of doing that because we've done it in the past."
So Caroline Buhr snapped a scoring slump and dumped in her first two points of the night. So Jessica Alexander hit back-to-back shots. So Kaitlyn Marenyl touched in a layup to reclaim the advantage.
And when Penn finally inched ahead, they held onto it. The Kingsmen hit six free throws in a row, while the Berries struggled from the line on their end.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, Penn (25-1) had slid into the state championship game with a 44-41 win Saturday, March 1. The Kingsmen return to state for the second time in four years.
"We knew we had to persevere through it," Penn guard Lauren Ellenberger said. "We are going to have highs and lows in a game."
Ellenberger was tasked with pestering and containing Logansport star Whitney Jennings, who only managed six points in the first half. But Jennings and teammate Nakeya Penny exploded after halftime, scoring 28 of the team’s 29-second half points.
Jennings finished with 23 points, while Penny added 17.
Defensively, Logansport cracked down on Penn top scorers Caroline and Camryn Buhr, holding them to nine total points. That’s when Alexander, Ellenberger and Kamra Solomon stepped up, taking the shots the Buhrs weren’t getting.
"We took out some of their players, and we knew they were going to take out some of ours," said Alexander, who finished with a team-high 13 points and eight rebounds. "Anybody can step up on any given night. That's what makes this team so special."
Overall, Penn finished just 13-21 from the free throw line, but the Kingsmen were perfect in their most crucial moments.
"Free throws win games," Kaniewski Ulrich said. "It's a proven fact."
Penn will play No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence for the state title Saturday, March 8, at the Hulman Center in Terre Haute.
The Kingsmen advanced to state in 2011 but fell to Jeffersonville 43-29 in the title game. For seniors like Alexander, Saturday is a chance to atone that loss.
"We want this," she said. "We all take it to heart. We want to get back there and actually win this time. We knew what it felt like, but it wasn't really our team.
"It's our team now."
PENN 44, LOGANSPORT 41
Penn— Kaitlyn Marenyl 2-4 0-0 4, Lauren Ellenberger 2-8 2-2 6, Jessica Alexander 5-12 3-6 13, Camryn Buhr 1-5 3-6 5, Caroline Buhr 2-6 0-1 4, Kamra Solomon 1-4 4-4 6, Clair Carlton 1-2 1-2 3, Cassandra Morton 1-4 0-0 3. Totals: 15-45 (.333) 13-21 (.619) 44.
Logansport — Whitney Jennings 8-18 7-8 23, Kennedy Curl 0-0 0-2 0, Nakeya Penny 7-16 2-4 17, Maddie Dalton 0-4 0-1 0, Sydney Bullard 0-3 1-2 1, Katrina Neuendorf 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-41 (.366) 10-17 (.588) 41.
Scoring By Quarters
Penn — 12 7 8 17 — 44
Logansport — 2 10 15 14 — 41
3-point goals: Penn(1) — Morton; Logansport (1) — Penny.
Rebounds: Penn (34) — Alexander 8, Cam. Buhr 7; Logansport (30) — Dalton 8, Penny 6, Jennings 6, Bullard 6.
Assists: Penn (5) — Solomon 2; Logansport (6) — Jennings 5.
Steals: Penn(3) — Solomon 2; Logansport (5) — Curl 2.
Turnovers: Penn11, Logansport 11..
Total fouls: Penn xx, Logansport xx. Fouled out — Ellenberger.
Officials: Michael Zehr, Gregory Hayes, John Gross.
Records: Penn 25-1; Logansport 24-2.
Next: Penn vs. Bedford North Lawrence-Lawrence North winner in state championship at Hulman Center, Terre Haute, Saturday, March 8.