By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
SPRINGFIELD — With his young Red Devils fighting furiously to hold onto its lead late against second-seeded Trotwood yet unable to make free throws down the stretch to put the game away, Tippecanoe girls basketball coach Andy Holderman saw himself running out of logical options.
“I was trying everything other than standing on my head,” he said. “That was my next move.”
Enter senior Brooke Aselage.
After the Rams cut Tippecanoe’s lead — which had been as many as 16 points at one time — down to three late in the fourth quarter, the senior grabbed an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw by a teammate and calmly sank two free throws of her own, then she scored a bucket in the paint with 37 seconds on the clock to make it a nine-point game and effectively seal the win for the fourth-seeded Red Devils in the second round of the Division II sectional tournament, a 55-47 victory over the Rams Tuesday at Springfield High School.
With roughly two minutes left to play and Trotwood having just cut Tippecanoe’s lead to 46-43, Rachel Wildermuth sank the first of two free throws to end a streak of eight straight misses for the Devils. She missed the second, though, but Aselage snared the rebound, missed a putback and got her own rebound then was fouled, sending her to the line with another chance to give her team some breathing room and take the pressure off.
“I was looking at coach Holderman, and he’s like, ‘Brooke, hand on the ball. Big hand on the ball like this,’” she said while gesturing. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I got this.’ And I took my time and just let them go, and they were in.
“It feels really good (to step up in a big moment). Since we’re so young, we definitely come as a team this year. We look to play well together.”
From there, Jillian Brown scored on a putback after a steal by Wildermuth to put the Devils up 51-43 with 1:35 to play, then after a Quantaijah Huffman drive made the score 52-45 with 1:05 to go, Kendall Clodfelter worked the ball inside to Aselage for a layup to push the lead back to nine with 37 seconds remaining, and Tippecanoe held on from there.
“In games like this, runs can quickly happen,” Holderman said. “You can spend three quarters building a 10-point lead and lose it in about 40 seconds. But I thought we did a pretty good job of maintaining our composure.”
It was a measure of payback for Tippecanoe (18-5), as well. Trotwood defeated the Devils 37-35 back on Jan. 24 to snap a 39-game division winning streak by Tippecanoe — and it was poetic justice, too, of a sorts, as that was a game in which the Devils missed a chance to tie the game thanks to a missed free throw in the final two seconds.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Aselage said when asked if revenge felt good. “We knew it was going to be tough, but we all had faith in each other to get the win.”
And while the Devils knew a slow start doomed them in that first meeting, Tippecanoe got off to a blazing start in the rematch.
The Devils took the lead for good at 6-5 on a putback by Aselage on a missed free throw — which proved to be a portent of things to come — part of a 15-0 run that put Tippecanoe ahead 17-5 and then 19-8 at the end of the first quarter. Defensively, the Devils forced eight first-quarter turnovers to take control, while five different Tippecanoe players each hit a 3-pointer in the first half to help power the offense as the Devils led by as many as 16 at 28-12 early in the second quarter and built a 36-23 lead by halftime.
“We did a nice job offensively once we got into running the offense and getting good looks,” Holderman said. “Unfortunately, that dag-gone free throw line … we were 7 of 18 in the fourth quarter. We’d missed 12 up to that point. In order to win games, you’ve got to knock down free throws and layups — thank goodness we were at least knocking down some layups.
“In the first half, even with foul trouble, our subs coming in off the bench in the last 3:30 of that half did a fantastic job of sustaining our run and getting the lead back up to 13 at the half. Kudos to our bench for that.”
Trotwood began chipping away at the lead in the third, though, getting to within single digits at 40-32 midway through and only trailing by four at 42-38 heading into the final quarter. Tippecanoe pushed the lead back to eight at 46-38 with 5:37 to play before its woes from the free throw line allowed the Rams to catch back up, with a three-point play by Sha’Mya Leigh cutting the lead to 46-43 before the decisive final stretch.
Aselage led all scorers with 14 points and added six rebounds to lead the Devils, while Wildermuth added 10 points and four rebounds. Ashleigh Mader had nine points and had the best night from the free throw line, going 6 for 9 as the Devils were 14 for 37 in the game, Clodfelter and Katie Salyer each added seven points, Mackenzie Smith scored six and Jillian Brown chipped in two.
Leigh had 12 points to lead the Rams, Huffman added 11 points, Heaven Gooden had 10 points and nine rebounds, Korryn Middleton had five points and six rebounds, Essence Thornton had five points and Goddess McIntyre pitched in four points and six rebounds as Trotwood outrebounded Tippecanoe 36-26 but coughed the ball up 23 times to only 12 Red Devil turnovers.
“This was a nice win for us,” Holderman said. “We had a lot of confidence coming in, and we’re playing our best basketball right now, which is a good thing.”
Tippecanoe has reached the regional tournament in each of the past four seasons and has won the sectional title five years in a row. The Devils will look to win their sixth straight sectional championship Monday when they face No. 3 Kenton Ridge at 7:30 p.m. in Springfield.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.