Junior Corinna Stiles of Tippecanoe Valley looks to score against Claire Payne of NorthWood during Tuesday night's sectional opener at NorthWood.
Junior Corinna Stiles of Tippecanoe Valley looks to score against Claire Payne of NorthWood during Tuesday night's sectional opener at NorthWood.

NAPPANEE – Tippecanoe Valley girls basketball fended off an upset bid and shot at revenge by the NorthWood Panthers Tuesday night, defeating the host team of ISHAA 3A Sectional 20 33-30 in the first round.

Nothing came easy for the Lady Vikings, who improve to 16-7 on the year. Both teams played hard-nosed defense and forced plenty of turnovers.

“This time of the year, there’s no style points. I told the girls before the game I think we need to keep this one in the thirties to win it,” Valley head coach Chris Kindig said. “I knew it was going to be a dog fight but I think defensively we did enough.

The Panthers were looking to get revenge with much higher stakes on the line after Valley defeated the hosts in a previous matchup this year, 46-33 on Jan. 11. With the home crowd behind them, NorthWood jumped out and scored the first two points of the game.

Tippecanoe Valley, which has had problems starting games a little sluggish this season, answered immediately by going on an 8-0 run. Six of those points belonged to junior Kaydence Mellott, who has been a dynamic offensive player all season long. Known usually for her shooting, Mellott was able to slash her way into the lane, creating foul trouble for the Panthers and getting to the line.

“She’s gotten team’s number one attention all year long. So instances are rare where she’s able to go out and shoot an uncontested three. She has to work for everything and has gotten a lot better at getting twos instead of threes. She uses her whole game to get those twos,” Kindig said.

With the Lady Vikings riding Mellott’s offense to a 10-5 lead after a quarter, the second period was nightmare fuel for Tippy Valley and its supporters. The green and yellow were held to just one point in the quarter, a free throw by junior Molly Moriarty. No field goals were made by the team and the looks of frustration could be seen on players faces as the turnovers began to mount. But the Lady Viking defense never wavered, and somehow, the game went into halftime tied at 11-11.

“The girls were kind of down at halftime and I told them, yes it’s bad we’ve only scored eleven but this game is tied and you are still in it,” Kindig said. “The girls hung in there and we got over the hump.”

With more and more time continuing to tick without the Lady Vikings having scored, a huge momentum boost went their way early in the third quarter. Mellott would nail two threes from the same spot in the span of ten seconds to give Tippy Valley the lead it had briefly lost. Mellott would score 15 of the Lady Vikings first 18 points. Valley was back in front and in the drivers seat with just one quarter to go.

The visitors would jump out to an eight-point lead early in the fourth and would spend the rest of the quarter hanging on. In a game that didn’t feature many points, sophomore Chesnee Miller scored all three of hers in the fourth, on top of having a menacing game on the defensive end. Miller would finish the game with seven steals, four coming in the final period to help ice the game.

“We started playing her a lot in early January. We couldn’t keep her off the floor because defensively she’s a difference maker,” Kindig said. “She gets to every loose ball, she doesn’t get tired. Once we get her to catch up on the offensive end, I think her future is as a superstar player.”

Tippy Valley will face another familiar foe in the sectional semifinals Friday in Wawasee. The Warriors defeated the Lady Vikings 53-45 on Jan. 25.

“We were pretty vanilla the first time we played. We didn’t want to show a whole lot. Their post play is really the difference. We’re going to have a challenge, so we’re going to have to find a way to do things a little differently. But if we’re playing our best, we’ll be competitive,” Kindig said.