Alexis Shannon (23) and the Noblesville Millers resume their sectional quest tonight against North Central. file photo.
Alexis Shannon (23) and the Noblesville Millers resume their sectional quest tonight against North Central. file photo.
FISHERS - The expressions said it all. As each Noblesville girls' basketball player jogged off the court on Tuesday night, slapping high-fives with fans and each other following their 60-55 win against rival Carmel in the Sectional 8 opener, the spring was back in their steps.

Finally turning their backs on the team's longest losing streak of the season, the once bewildered looks turned back into confident smirks and laughter.

Weight, pressure, pregame nerves? Not anymore.

"An amazing weight," Wood remarked on what Tuesday's win freed the team from after dropping back-to-back to end the regular season. "We were just ready to battle."

Rallying back late in the third quarter against a charged up Carmel Greyhounds team determined to avenge their 102-85 loss during the regular season, the Millers (20-3) achieved the first goal of postseason play.

Survive and advance.

Now, they face yet another rematch tonight at 6 p.m. with North Central (9-12), a team they handled easily on Dec. 6 on the road 72-55.

"We want to make sure we control tempo and pressure them all over the place," Noblesville head coach Donna Keck outlined when discussing her team's postseason approach. "We can't give them anything easy. Contest every shot and do a good job of getting out in transition and running."

Victorious against the entire Sectional 8 field during the regular season, each step along the way will be a challenge for the favored Millers, who thrive on speed and efficiency.

On Dec. 12, Noblesville knocked off No. 9 Fishers (19-5) 45-33, and on Jan. 31 they defeated Hamilton Southeastern 68-57 to win the Hoosier Crossroads Conference title outright.

Both of the Millers' potential championship game opponents play in tonight's second semifinal at 7:30 p.m. HSE holds the home court advantage and a mild physiological edge over Fishers after winning the Mudsock on Dec. 20 with a 45-40 victory.

But the past means little once everyone goes back to zero, according to HSE head coach Chris Huppenthal.

"Just like against Westfield, in this sectional, against coach [Michael] Gaines over in Fishers, there's really no secrets," Huppenthal said. "You got to come out. You got to play. You got to knock down shots. We're pretty sure what they're going to do. They know what we're going to do. Now, you have to execute."

HSE (16-6) was nearly perfect down the stretch during the quarterfinals against Westfield on Wednesday night. The Royals won 53-46 despite a late run by the Shamrocks that cut their once double-digit lead to one point.

Led by sophomore star Bre Lloyd's 16 points and junior Megan Walton's 18, the Royals turned a 33-32 scare into a comfortable cushion behind an 8-0 run, clutch free throw shooting and fierce work on the glass.

Fishers steamrolled past Zionsville with ease 46-21 on Wednesday. Senior guard Adrianna Murphy came out with a purpose, scoring 12 of her team-high 16 points in the first half. The Tigers worked inside and out and ran out in transition often facilitated by their defensive prowess.

The slightly overlooked defending sectional champions are riding a four-game winning streak and have only lost two of the past 14 games.

However, HSE is 8-4 against Fishers in the past 10 years, but the two teams haven't seen each other in the postseason since the Tigers won 30-24 in sectional quarterfinals in 2009-10. Fishers also knocked off HSE in the sectional semifinals in 2008-09.

"We have to make sure we are focused game by game and within the game quarter by quarter and within the quarter possession by possession," Gaines said. "We're trying to make it a grind for our kids in terms of being focused on every little thing. Trying to have that grit and mental toughness to push through on every possession."

For the Millers, momentum will come from their relentless pressure on defense and offensive consistency.

On Tuesday, the formula resulted in double-digit performances from their three leading scorers in senior guard Becca Bergman (15 points, eight assists), junior Alexis Shannon (14 points) and junior Katelyn O'Reilly (18 points, 14 rebounds).

"We need them for games like this. If they're off, we all feel it," Wood said. "But I think everyone is ready to step up at that point if they are having a bad game or need a boost."

If Noblesville wins tonight, they will stand just one game from a sectional title, which has eluded the program since 1996.

"That's another drought," Keck said. "It's another one of our goals. We achieved the first one, which was conference and our next one is to go out and break that drought of not winning sectional."