By Josh Brown
SPRINGFIELD — This was Tippecanoe’s year.
Making their third trip to the regional final in the past four years — and with the Knights already out of the tournament after three straight losses to the Knights — the Red Devils were finally supposed to get over the hump, win the regional and advance to the state tournament.
Bellbrook, however, didn’t pay attention to what was supposed to happen.
The Golden Eagles — who the Devils actually beat by three in last year’s district final game — hit five first-half 3-pointers to take control then regained the edge after briefly losing the lead early in the fourth quarter, getting enough stops on defense and hitting enough free throws to defeat the Tippecanoe girls basketball team 47-41 in the Division II regional championship game Friday at Springfield High School.
After Alter represented the region at the state tournament the past three years, Bellbrook — which improved to 20-8 — advanced to Friday’s state semifinal round to face Gilmour Academy. Tippecanoe, meanwhile, saw its 14-game winning streak come to an end and, after falling in the regional semifinal last year, lost its third regional final in four years.
“Anytime you get to this point, every team you play is capable of beating each other,” Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said. “Coming down the stretch, we didn’t execute, turned the ball over, missed free throws, missed layups — and when you add all those things together, it’s tough to beat a good team.
“It was just one of those games where everything had to fall right — and not everything did. All the stars didn’t align, and we came up on the short end of the stick.”
Early 3s by Maren Freudenschuss and Bekah Vine gave Bellbrook a 10-5 lead in the first quarter, but Maddie Frederick kept the Devils in striking distance, even hitting a half-court heave at the buzzer to tie the score at 10-10 after one. Frederick then tried to take the game over in the second quarter, hitting another 3 and then a jumper to give Tippecanoe a 15-13 lead with four minutes left in the half.
But Cassidy Hofacker scored on a drive to answer and tie the game up again, then she hit a floater in the lane to put Bellbrook back on top. The Golden Eagles led by as many as five at 25-20 after a 3 by Brooklyn Hall before Frederick hit a buzzer-beating jumper to make the score 25-22 at the break.
Holderman knew — especially after last year’s hard-fought three-point win over Bellbrook in the district final — that it was going to be a battle to the end.
“Oh, I looked at several films,” Holderman said. “This is a game where I was worried about not turning the ball over and being able to knock down shots. It felt like the first half of this game, we didn’t knock down very many. We got some open looks and had some dribble drives at the basket. And we knew they were a dribble-drive team, but they still got to the rim several times.”
The third quarter was back and forth throughout, as well, with a three-point play by Siera Ferguson in the closing seconds giving the Eagles a 37-32 lead heading into the final eight minutes. But, with Frederick having carried the team for the first three quarters, Tippecanoe’s other players finally came alive to open the fourth. Cali Stewart hit a 3 out of the gate, Bellbrook missed a pair of free throws and Allison Mader drilled another 3 to give the lead to the Devils at 38-37. Vine then picked up her fourth foul as Tippecanoe drew a charge, forcing a Bellbrook timeout with 6:48 to go.
The Devils still lead by one at 39-38 with less than four minutes to play, but a steal by Hofacker led to a fast-break layup by Vine to put the Eagles up 40-39 — and Bellbrook never relinquished the lead again. Tippecanoe spent the final three minutes unable to get layups to fall or to get to the line often enough, and the Eagles hit enough free throws to pull ahead 44-41 with 1:30 to play.
Bellbrook sealed it with 33.5 seconds to go, as Hofacker stole the ball and was fouled. She hit the first to make it a two-possession game, then she missed the second, only to have Kayla Paul win the battle for the rebound on the floor. The Eagles missed a pair of free throws with 25.7 seconds remaining, but Olivia Greathouse grabbed the offensive rebound and sank a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game to ice it.
“It was chaotic, that’s for sure,” Holderman said of the final three minutes. “But you’ve got to come up with those plays. We had a lot of self-inflicted mistakes late that cost us, and they executed when they had too and knocked down shots and free throws.
“We thought we were in good shape, only being down two at the half with Allison and Cali only having minimal points, but everything just didn’t fall right.”
Frederick led all scorers with 21 points and added 13 rebounds for Tippecanoe. Mader had six points and five rebounds, Stewart had five points, three rebounds and three assists, Claire Hinkle had five points and Brooke Aselage had four points and five rebounds.
Hall had 12 points and Hofacker added 10 for Bellbrook, which had nine players score in the game. Vine added seven points, Fruedenschuss hit a pair of 3s and scored six points, Greathouse scored four points, Ferguson had three, GiGi Painter and Maria Mescher each scored two and Paul had one point and six rebounds.
It was the final game in the careers of Tippecanoe’s winningest senior class ever: Frederick, Mader, Stewart, Hinkle, Hailee Varvel and Chloe Schretzman — a class that won 97 games, three division championships and four sectional and district titles … but simply could not get over that one final hump.
“They set the bar really high, that’s for sure,” Holderman said of his seniors. “It’s about winning for them. They showed all these younger kids that this is what it’s like and this is what it takes to get to where we want to get to. Three years getting here to the elite eight is something special, but we just couldn’t get over the hump. We didn’t execute when we needed to execute, had timely turnovers and empty possessions — and when you do that against a good team, it’s tough to win.
“All the stars just didn’t align tonight.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU