MUNSTER — The high, domed ceiling at Munster Fieldhouse can be borderline dizzying for anyone who looks straight up at its center too much.
When Sarah Martin looked up toward the middle in the third quarter of Saturday night’s Northwest Crossroads Conference showdown, she was more reflective and tough on herself than disoriented. That’s because the junior guard glanced at the numbers and saw that host Munster had taken its first lead of the game with 2:44 to go in the period.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and told myself, ‘I need to get going, I need to start scoring, or I at least need to get dishes to Lindsey (Stoke) and Cat (Catherine Cavinder),’” Martin said. “Once we got that going, it gave me an energy boost, and we were off to the races.”
Martin scored with 2:28 left in the third for a tie, and the Times No. 6 Kougars built their lead back up to nine en route to a 56-50 win over No. 5 Munster.
The victory in a game in which both teams came in with a 3-0 mark in the six-team NCC locked up at least a share of a third consecutive conference title for Kankakee Valley (14-3, 4-0) with a home game against Andrean next Friday the only obstacle in what could be three straight unbeaten runs through the league.
“Every season, our big goal is to be conference champs and keep that title for the K.V. Kougars,” Martin said.
Martin’s play in the second half was more aggressive as she got to the lane and made good things happen. Early on she was frustrated missing seemingly easy shots.
“This is a tough gym to play in,” Martin said. “I didn’t play well in the first quarter or second quarter. I only had four points, and that’s not me.”
Martin started consistently scoring when she hit the tying shot while getting fouled and later had a steal that she took unassisted through three-quarters of the court for a layup and 40-34 lead. She finished with 13 points, one behind Stokes for the team lead, and had four assists and four steals.
“Credit her for staying patient,” K.V. coach Ryan Myers said. “She was probably a little frustrated, but she did a good job staying the course and riding it out.”
Carley DeKock’s rebound basket with fewer than two minutes to go in the third gave K.V. a 36-34 lead they’d never relinquish.
Stokes entered the game with 983 points in her career, but after scoring 14 Saturday she’ll have to wait for Tuesday’s game against Crown Point to seek the 1,000 milestone.
Stokes’ early pair of 3-pointers opened up the inside for the Kougars and ended up being part of K.V. staying just far enough ahead of the Mustangs to make Munster’s struggle an uphill one.
“The third quarter they really got on a roll,” Myers said. “I thought the kids found ways on defense. We’ve really been preaching defense and working on man-to-man. We went to a 3-2 zone the last four minutes and seemed to take them out of their offense.”
Munster got 16 points from Isabelle Bednarowski and nine from Taneigh Boyd, whose 3-pointer put Munster up 34-32 for its only lead. Jaycee Helmer had 10 points, three blocks and three assists.
The Mustangs (15-5, 3-1), who lost 72-30 to K.V. last season, had trouble converting turnovers into points coming out of an aggressive full-court press Saturday.
“We felt like we could score, but we didn’t know if we could stop them,” Munster coach Jim Davidson said. “(Martin) had a great game, and we had trouble stopping her. Both teams played hard. We’re disappointed we didn’t win, but we’ve come a long way and just have to figure out how to take one more step.”