GREENWOOD, Ind. -- It is said in sports that to be the champion, you have to beat the champion.
That is exactly what the Greenwood High School girls basketball team did Saturday as they defeated the Class 4A defending state champion North Central 44-43 ... but it wasn't easy.
With Greenwood leading by seven points and 2:04 remaining in the third quarter, North Central senior Celeste Edwards drove to the basket, drawing a foul. An exchange of words between North Central coach DeeAnn Ramey and the official resulted in back-to-back technical fouls and her ejection from the game. Ramey declined to answer questions following the game.
Edwards made her two free throws followed by Greenwood's Chloe Orrvar hitting 3-of-4 from the line, making it 31-23 Greenwood ... and inspiring North Central.
"After the two technicals (we knew) it was going to be emotional," Greenwood coach Debbie Gukenberger said. "I think that fired them up emotionally."
That sequence of events led to North Central (3-5) going on a 20-11 run to take a one-point lead when Edwards hit two key free throws. She ended with a game-high 26 points.
"I think our girls really didn't come to play in the first half," said North Central assistant Lisa Shepherd-Stidham, who took over following Ramey's ejection. "Emotionally they just weren't there, the energy wasn't there. Honestly, when coach Ramey got teed-up, that is when their attitudes changed and they got a little bit of energy and emotion."
But following the made foul shots, Greenwood (10-2) quickly drove down the court and took the lead when Kelsie Ratliff spun around her defender for a short bucket.
The Panthers pushed the ball up the court and, just as it looked like the ball-handler had a lane to the basket, North Central called timeout with 3.1 seconds remaining.
"We called timeout to set up a play," Shepherd-Stidham said. "We were wanting to get across half-court and set up a play."
The play didn't fully develop and a shot by Kyra Taylor fell short as the buzzer sounded.
It was the pressure-style defense North Central employs that kept it in the game as they forced 22 turnovers.
"We should be used to their pressure defense," Orrvar said. "North Central has an amazing defense. They know our scouting report. Most of us are on the same AAU team so they know who likes pressure, and who can't handle it."
Orrvar was able to crack the Panthers defense as she scored 15 points, tying her with Ratliff for team-high.
Foul trouble limited Orrvar's playing time during the final 6 minutes.
"That hurts us because she is kind of the leader on the floor," Gukenberger said. "I tried to get her in at all cost, even if it was just for offensive possessions because we need her ball handling, we need leadership. She is who keeps us calm and under control."