By Josh Brown
MASON — When her moment came, Sammie Rowland knew exactly what needed to be done.
The Tippecanoe senior also found out exactly what those big moments felt like.
“I just saw the ball in the air and knew if I didn’t get to the ball and score, the seniors would be done,” Rowland said. “I didn’t want it to be my last game. I knew I had to get it and put it in the basket.
“It was the most slow-motion time in my life.”
After Tippecanoe missed a potentially game-winning 3 in the final seconds of Friday night’s Division II district final against Mariemont, Rowland got the offensive rebound and stuck it back to tie the score as time expired and force overtime, completing a second rally from a big deficit by the Red Devils on the night. Once in overtime, the Devils’ momentum continued to carry them past the Warriors 67-63 at Mason and into next week’s regional tournament.
After rallying from a 17-point deficit to defeat Carroll in the sectional title game, the Devils (21-5) found themselves behind 9-0 to start the game against the Warriors but rallied to tie the score at 20-20 at halftime. But Mariemont (24-2) began the second half on an 11-1 run and led by as many as 13 at 39-26 with two minutes to go in the third quarter.
“This game was definitely harder,” Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said with a chuckle when asked which one was more stressful. “We just couldn’t get out of the funk early. But in the end, we were able to tie the game, force overtime, and once we were there we had momentum on our side. Everyone hit big shots and found a way to get it done.”
Mikenna Varvel hit four 3s in the game — two in each half — to give the Devils a jump-start and ensure they never fell completely out of striking distance. With Mariemont leading by 12 early in the fourth quarter, Varvel hit a 3 to cut the lead to single digits, but Mariemont answered as it had all night, by hitting a big shot of its own with an Olivia Griffith 3 to push the advantage back to 47-35 with 7:05 to play.
Mariemont built the lead back to nine at 53-44 with less than three minutes to go, but Taylor Prall hit back-to-back 3s to get the Devils to within 53-50 with 1:47 left. Rebekah Justice converted a three-point play on a putback to push the lead back to six, but she fouled out moments later — taking her 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots with her. The Warriors then went 1 for 5 from the free throw line from that point, and Prall banked in yet another 3 to make the score 57-55 Mariemont with 14.4 seconds to go.
“No, but when the bank’s open, it’s open,” Prall said with a smile when asked if that was intentional. “Every time I was open and got the ball, I just took the shot. I was feeling it.”
“This team has a lot of good energy,” Rowland said. “We see one player hit a shot, and then the rest of us pick it up for them. It really is contagious with us.”
After Mariemont missed a pair of free throws, Tippecanoe took the ball the other way and Varvel fired off a 3, going for the win. She was slightly off — but Rowland was in perfect position and stuck it back to tie the score at 57-57 as time expired.
“I knew I had to get it,” Rowland said. “I didn’t want it to be my last game.”
“That’s what we talked about at the half,” Holderman said. “We had to get all the 50-50 balls. The team that hustled the most was the one that was going to win. The girls hung in there and kept believing.”
“I saw Mikenna take the shot, and I thought for sure it was going in,” Prall said. “When it didn’t, I was a little scared. I saw Sammie put it in, and I thought we were still down one. I looked at the scoreboard, saw it was tied, and I was so happy. I knew we’d win.”
Prall converted a three-point play to start off the overtime and give the Devils their first lead of the game — the only one they’d need. After a bucket by Mariemont’s Aislynn Hartman, Rowland hit another short jumper and Aubrey Cox hit a pair of free throws to make it 64-59. Hartman scored again, but Rowland answered to keep it a five-point game. A series of free throws made the score 67-63 Tippecanoe with less than 30 seconds to go, and the Devil defense finished from there.
Prall led the Devils with 19 points, scoring 15 in the second half and overtime and hitting three of her four 3s in the fourth quarter. Rowland added 16 points and five rebounds, Varvel finished with 12 points and Cox had nine points and 16 rebounds. Allison Mader and Kelsey Wertz each added four points, Cali Stewart scored two and Rachel Rusk had one.
“It was a team effort. Everyone puts in the work,” Prall said. “We knew their strengths going in, but we started out a little slow. But we came back, just like the last game.”
Harmtan led the Warriors with 20 points and eight rebounds, Carson Fields had 13, Justice had 11, Griffith had 10 and Ashley Rothert scored seven.
Tippecanoe finished the game 22 for 58 from the field and hit nine 3s, as well as outrebounding the Warriors 32-30 and winning the turnover battle 23-18. Mariemont was 23 for 44 from the field and hit five 3s — but the crucial difference came from the free throw line, where the Devils were 14 for 22 and the Warriors were 10 for 22. Cox led the way in that respect, going 7 for 9.
It was the sixth district title for the Tippecanoe girls basketball program. The Devils advanced to their second straight regional tournament, and they will face Caledonia River Valley at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at Springfield High School in the regional semifinal.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.