SULLIVAN — Scoring just 11 points and trailing by 14 points at halftime, Sullivan girls basketball coach Julie Meeks searched for a spark Wednesday night.
The veteran coach got what she was looking for in the form of a youthful bench.
However, visiting South Knox made more plays in the fourth quarter and handed the Arrows a 44-32 loss.
Freshman Ally McKinney and sophomore Isabelle Harris were inserted into the starting lineup after intermission for the Lady Arrows and gave the team a much needed jolt of energy.
Sullivan scored the first nine points of the second half to pull within 25-20 with just under four minutes left in the third.
After Avery Wiltermood split a pair of free throws to start the half, McKinney pulled down a defensive rebound and hit Wiltermood in stride down the court for a transition bucket.
Harris then recorded a rebound basket, before McKinney bounced a pass to Lexi Grindstaff cutting to the hoop for another shot at the rim.
Grinstaff capped the run with another shot from the paint on an inbound pass from Wiltermood.
“I decided to go with more aggressive players who gave us an all-out effort to start the second half,” Meeks said of the second-half changes. “Those five girls who were out there gave us everything they had and we were able to climb back into the game.”
The two teams traded points the rest of the frame as South Knox carried a 29-24 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
Then back luck struck the Lady Arrows. Within the first minute of the final period, Wiltermood tweaked her ankle in a scrum for a loose ball and had to exit the game.
Sullivan committed one of its 19 turnovers in the game immediately after the senior went to the bench. South Knox’s Ella Bobe then drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, pushing the Spartans’ lead back to eight points. Sixty seconds later, Bobe assisted on a triple by Bren Hill to give South Knox a 12-point advantage.
The Arrows were never able to fully recover.
“We had to take Avery out for a little bit, then boom, boom, boom … those things really hurt us,” Meeks said of the turnover and two three pointers. “It seemed like without Avery out there, our level of intensity dropped off.”
Wiltermood returned to the court later in the period but the Arrows were not able to draw any closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Bobe led the Spartans with a game-high 16 points — seven coming in the final eight minutes.
“She is a great player and leader for them,” Meeks said of the Spartans’ star player. “She kind of just took over the game late and that is just the type of player she is.”
South Knox hit seven 3-pointers for the game while Sullivan could not connect on any of its 13 attempts from beyond the arc. The Spartans also finished 9 of 10 from the charity stripe and the Lady Arrows missed seven of 15 from the line.
“Them being able to hit 3-pointers and free throws and us not hitting either was a big difference in the game,” the Arrows’ coach said. “We have to shoot better, start off better and play for four quarters the same way we played the last two tonight. But we will get there … we have some young kids who are hungry and are coming up.”
Grindstaff led the Arrows with a double-double. The junior netted 11 points and pulled down a game-high 11 boards and also swatted away three shots.
“Grindy had a phenomenal game,” Meeks said. “She moved really well and was all hustle out there for us. That is what we need from all five girls who are out on the court at all times.”
Wiltermood finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists, while freshman Avari Kelley added a pair of free throws to go along with six steals.
McKinney added a bucket in addition to six boards and dished out three assists in the loss.
Sullivan (4-3) plays host to Western Indiana Conference rival Northview Friday night in the first game of a girls-boys varsity doubleheader.
The girls tip at 6 p.m.