At the conclusion of the two Grant Four semifinal contests on Wednesday, Oak Hill punched their ticket to the championship game for the fifth straight season, while Eastbrook found themselves in the title contest for the first time since the 2015-2016 campaign.
The opener between Oak Hill and host Madison-Grant was a hard-fought affair through four quarters, with neither team leading by more than seven any given point, requiring overtime to decide a winner.
However, in the end, stout defensive play in the second half, as well as clutch free throw shooting down the stretch, proved to be the difference as the Golden Eagles battled back from a seven-point deficit to defeat the Argylls 47-43 in overtime.
“We made some mistakes in
some certain situations that I didn’t want them to do,” Oak Hill Head Coach Clay Bolser said. “But overall, I thought when we were done, we just kept our composure.”
Oak Hill battled back from a seven-point deficit after the first quarter to trail by just one point at halftime, and eventually they took the lead, 33-32, heading into the final frame.
The Argylls seized momentum back for a brief moment, using a 7-0 run, which included two baskets from Azmae Turner and three free throws from Zoey Barnett, to take a 39-33 lead with 6:00 to play.
However, Oak Hill ended the contest on a 14-4 run, allowing just two more points in the fourth quarter and two more in overtime. Audrey Leak scored seven points in the final two frames, while Carlee Biddle scored four points in the extra session to secure Oak Hill’s victory. Additionally, the Golden Eagles shot eight of 11 from the free throw line.
“We were able to plug back,” Bolser said. “We gave up a late basket, and Carlee answered it in overtime. We knocked down our free throws when it mattered, which has been a huge Achilles heel for us.”
Kate Hornocker led Oak Hill with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Treniti Thurman scored nine, Leak seven, and Biddle six.
Despite an inability to pull the game out, Madison-Grant Head Coach Brandon Bradley was proud of how his team played throughout the contest.
“I thought it was as gutsy of an effort as we’ve had in three years,” Bradley said. “We have things to work on for sure, but as far as their effort, their focus, and their sense of urgency, it was phenomenal, and I can’t praise them anymore.”
Turner led all scorers with 18 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Zoey Barnett collected a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“Azmae just continues to get stronger and more confidence in her scoring ability,” Bradley said. “But I was more impressed with her focus on defense. [Zoey] is just comfortable. She knows what to do in every situation. She’s great in the short corner. She’s great in the mid post. She can attack. She can shoot. And she is rebounding the heck out of the ball.”
In the second semifinal contest, behind a stout performance by Kristin Goff and key contributions from their other young talent, the Panthers defeated the Indians, 50-34.
Mississinewa threw a new wrinkle into their defensive scheme, a triangle-and-two formation, to help slow down Eastbrook’s high-powered offense, and it did have some effect.
“We just didn’t hit shots,” Liddick said. “We missed 13 shots in the paint in the first half. We missed 13 or 14 shots in the paint in the second half. We were getting great looks, but give them credit, they were challenging shots and making shots difficult for us, which attributed to a lot of those misses.”
However, Kristin Goff made the Indians pay, scoring a career-high 16 points, including four-of-seven from beyond the arc, to help turn a close game into a comfortable win.
“That’s where Kristin is comfortable,” Liddick said. “We tell her she could score 30 points in the paint if she wanted to, but she would rather stand out here. And she is good at it. She did a great job [this afternoon] for us getting us going.”
The Panthers held a slight 14-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter, and the Indians were able to briefly take the lead at the 4:18 mark of the second quarter on a three from Alayna Webb. However, the Indians closed the first half on a 10-0 run, building a 26-18 advantage they would not relinquish.
Behind their usual stout defense, the Panthers began to pull away, forcing the Indians into mistakes and capitalizing on those opportunities. Eastbrook led 38-28 after the third quarter, and held that double-digit lead the rest of the way.
“We hadn’t seen a triangle-and-two yet this year,” Liddick said. “But I thought we handled it well and executed it well.”
Along with Goff, freshman Olivia Howell also put together a strong performance for Eastbrook, scoring nine points and collecting seven rebounds.
“She made some freshman mistakes, and she got rattled at times,” Liddick said. “But at the same time, she never cowered down. You never saw here tuck her tail between her legs. She battled the whole game against a very tough defense and got not only herself good looks but her teammates good looks as well.”
Turnovers were the Indians’ undoing. For the game, Mississinewa turned the ball over 24 times – an issue over the last several contests.
“It’s just that first entry pass. Once we get that first entry pass, we are fine,” Mississinewa Head Coach Laura Friday said. “But for some reason, we’ve been struggling with the entry pass. They just get in their head a little bit. I thought we played really well for two-and-a-half quarters, and then we fell off in the third. That is something we need to improve on.”
Webb was a bright spot for the Indians, playing one of the best games of her career. She scored 16 points and was active on the defensive end of the floor as well.
“Alayna has been clutch all season, to be honest,” Friday said. “A lot more pressure got put on her…but I think she has handled it really, really well. Whether she is scoring, getting defensive stops, or getting 50-50 balls, she has been huge for us every single game, win or lose.”
Mia Catey collected 13 points and eight rebounds, while Karmen Swindall collected seven points and 10 boards.