By Josh Brown
SPRINGFIELD — For Tippecanoe senior Allison Mader, a serious injury suffered in the regular season finale was not the eye-opening experience.
It was the weeks that came after.
“I think it takes for you to lose something for you to realize just how important it is to you,” she said. “Today, when I got the opportunity to play again, I know not to take anything for granted.”
Mader, a four-year starter for the Red Devils who was injured on Feb. 10 and had not played since, returned to action in Tuesday night’s Division II regional semifinal game against Bloom-Carroll at Springfield High School. And her fellow Red Devils responded with arguably their most confident effort of the season as the Tippecanoe girls basketball team blew past the Bulldogs in a 50-28 victory to advance to its third regional championship appearance in the past four seasons.
Tippecanoe, which improved to 25-2 with the win, lost in the regional semifinal round to Alter last season and also lost to those same Knights the previous two seasons in the regional final. Now, with Alter bowing out of the tournament early this season, the Devils are returning to the regional final Friday night at Springfield where they will face Bellbrook — which Tippecanoe defeated 43-40 in last year’s district final.
And for Mader, though she had spent so much time and effort away from the court coming back from her injury, and though the injury was a frightening incident on its own, she was not nervous or scared to be back in the starting lineup Tuesday.
“Honestly, not really,” Mader said. “And I know that sounds weird, but I was more excited. I’ve been wanting to come back for so long, and the past three weeks I’ve spent just waiting to get back.”
“The gameplan was to get her in for two minutes, take her out and evaluate, play her another minute or two then get her out and evaluate her again,” Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said. “She was good to go, though, so then it was a matter of stamina. But she did a nice job, and it was definitely nice to get her back.”
It didn’t take Mader long to make her presence known, either. Cali Stewart found Mader open inside for the game’s first bucket to kick off a 10-0 Tippecanoe run to begin the game. Stewart hit a pair of 3s during the burst and Mader added a pair of free throws — and the Bulldogs never got closer than eight after that.
“It felt good. Definitely, I needed that. I really did,” Mader said of getting the game’s first basket. “That kind of got the game going, and from there, I felt good.”
Seeing Mader back had the rest of the Devils playing at a level they hadn’t hit previously in this year’s tournament, too.
Stewart finished with a game-high 15 points, with 11 of those coming in the first half as Tippecanoe built an insurmountable 31-12 halftime lead and was never challenged, and added five rebounds and two assists. Brooke Aselage added 11 points — eight of those in the second half — and Mader scored eight of her nine points in the first quarter and added four assists.
Maddie Frederick added seven points, four rebounds and four assists, Claire Hinkle had two points, six rebounds and four assists, Chloe Schretzman had two points and five rebounds, Hailee Varvel had two points and two assists and Ashleigh Mader had two points.
“She’s such a big part of this team,” Holderman said of Mader. “To go down in the last game of the year with a scary injury, not knowing, I thought we did a good job as a team to stay alive and give her the opportunity to come back. She got some minutes today, and we’ll get back at it in practice tomorrow and Thursday and get ready for Bellbrook Friday.
“We’ve had a situation where multiple people have stepped up in multiple games, and it’s only brought us together even more. To continue now with Allison back, the confidence that the girls have gained, we’ve been to the regional before, so we had that going for us tonight. I thought we handled ourselves pretty well at the beginning of the game, got off to a 10-0 start and set the tone.”
And the Devils did that by sharing the basketball, too. On their 20 field goals in the game, the Devils combined for 16 assists as a team — with only two putbacks, one drive and one steal-and-layup not coming directly from sharing the basketball.
“That’s what we set out to do,” Holderman said. “We’ve got enough people that can put the ball in the basket that there’s no reason to force shots. We can always make the extra pass and go from a good shot to a great shot. When you share the ball and do that, you become a team that’s hard to beat.”
The Tippecanoe defense had another solid game, too, allowing only eight field goals by Bloom-Carroll (15-11) in total, four in each half. Chloe Davis led the Bulldogs with nine points, Makenzee Mason and Nicole Bradbury added six points, McKenzie Powers and Alayna Ireland both scored three and Maddy Wyatt added one.
And now, after four trips to the regional tournament, the Red Devil senior class — which won for the 97th time on Tuesday — will have one final chance to advance to the state tournament in Friday’s regional final against Bellbrook.
“It’s surreal,” Mader said. “The past three years, we’ve been in the same spot. We’re just really hoping to get over that hump, especially for us seniors. We’re really looking forward to it. We’re definitely not done yet.”
And that’s an opportunity that Mader and the Devils certainly aren’t going to take for granted.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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