By Josh Brown
SPRINGFIELD — No Halee Printz, Tippecanoe’s all-time leader in scoring and assists, who graduated and is currently playing for Toledo University.
No Carly Clodfelter, the senior who entered this season with more than 1,000 points in her career and a chance to pass Printz on the all-time scoring lost, who was injured and lost for the season after the fourth game.
What the Red Devils do have, though, is a collective group of players that all play together, play their parts and pitch in everywhere they can.
And thanks to that, the Devils earned their second consecutive trip to the regional championship game as Tippecanoe jumped all over Caledonia River Valley early and withstood a late rally to hold on for a 54-45 victory in the Division II regional semifinal Tuesday at Springfield High School.
“You take those two (Printz and Clodfelter) away, and that’s 50 of our 70 points per game from last year,” first-year Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said. “But we’ve had multiple people step up on multiple occasions. From the first player on the roster to the 14th, the girls are all doing their part — and that’s the amazing thing about these girls. It’s been a collective effort. It’s really been a pleasure.”
And Tuesday night, it was senior Aubrey Cox’s turn.
Tippecanoe (22-5) hit the gate running thanks to Cox, who hit her first three shots of the game on the Devils’ first three possessions to put Tippecanoe up 6-0. The Devils led 10-3 with 4:44 left in the first quarter before a putback by Kendall Stuckman got the Vikings to within 10-5.
But that was the closest the game would be the rest of the way as the Devils went on a 14-2 run from there to take a 24-7 lead midway through the second quarter. The Devils scored nine straight to take a 19-5 lead before River Valley’s Morgan Lott hit a jumper — but Kelsey Wertz answered with what would prove to be Tippecanoe’s only 3 of the game and Allison Mader hit a pair of free throws to make it 24-7.
Cox had 12 points and four rebounds and Wertz added five off the bench in the first half, putting the Devils up 27-12 at the half — an unfamiliar spot after having to come from behind to win both the sectional and district finals.
“Early on, they had a really hard time stopping Aubrey,” Holderman said. “We kind of went away from that for a while, though, started settling for some shots, but we got back to it in the third and fourth quarters. Thank goodness we had that option.
“When we were ahead, we found ourselves settling for shots. We’re trying to get the girls to stay disciplined and go after the shots we want. Our first look tonight was Aubrey, but we didn’t want to force it if it wasn’t there.”
Tippecanoe’s biggest lead of the game was 16 after a bucket by Cox late in the third made it 36-20, and the Devils held a 38-23 edge going into the fourth.
But that’s when the Vikings woke up and began hitting from outside.
Lott began the fourth with a long 3 and then hit a pair of free throws to get River Valley back to within 10 at 38-28. After a bucket by Cassidy Wasson, Lott hit another bomb from long range to get the Vikings back to within single digits for the first time since the opening possession of the second quarter, 40-31.
After the Devils missed the front end of a one-and-one, they stole the rebound back and Cox scored, then Mader won a scramble for a rebound on the other end and Cox again finished a fast break. Then Cox grabbed a defensive rebound and hit Taylor Prall for a transition finish to give the Devils a 46-31 lead with roughly four minutes to play — a 6-0 run in less than 20 seconds to stretch the lead back.
But Jensen Lewis hit a 3 from five feet behind the line to keep the Vikings alive, and Stuckman later grabbed a rebound off of another missed front end by Tipp, taking it the other way for a score to make it 47-37 with 1:45 to go. Sammie Rowland hit a pair of free throws to push the lead back to 12, but Lott’s fourth 3 of the night cut the lead to 49-40 with 1:26 to play.
“It was definitely a rough game, but give them a lot of credit. They hit some big shots from very far away,” Holderman said. “They took a couple from the bus, I think. But in the tournament, you take your win any way you can get it.”
A turnover — one of the Devils’ 21 in the game — led to a pair of Stuckman free throws to make it a seven-point game, then after Wasson hit a free throw Elle Hempstead hit yet another long 3 to make the score 50-45 with less than a minute to go. But Tippecanoe forced a turnover on the other end and Wertz finished in transition to make it 52-45 with 20 seconds to go, and Cox collected a rebound off a Viking miss that sealed the win.
Cox finished with a game-high 21 points and 13 rebounds as Tippecanoe won on the glass 44-30. Wasson added eight points, seven rebounds and six steals, Wertz had eight points off the bench and Rowland had seven points and eight rebounds. Mader and Prall each scored four points and Mikenna Varvel had two.
Lott had 20 points to lead River Valley, Stuckman had 11 points and five rebounds, Lewis had seven points, Hempstead had three and Christie Longo and Alexis Reichardt had two apiece.
Tippecanoe was 20 for 50 from the field and 13 for 25 from the free throw line, while River Valley was 15 for 49 from the field — hitting five of its eight 3s in the fourth quarter — and 7 for 15 from the free throw line. Tippecanoe also forced 20 turnovers while committing 21.
“We’ll take our win any way we can get it,” Holderman said. “Now we’ll go back, look at the film and see what we can learn from — and we’ve definitely got some things we can learn from. But it’s the tournament, and the team that gets rid of the jitters the quickest and then remains disciplined is the one that’s going to win.”
Tippecanoe will play in Friday night’s regional title game against the winner of Tuesday’s late game between Alter — which defeated the Red Devils in last year’s regional final en route to the state championship — and unbeaten Bellbrook.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.