By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
SPRINGFIELD — Entering this season, everything seemed to be going against the Tippecanoe girls basketball team.
That feeling only deepened going into the postseason, when the Red Devils earned a No. 4 seed and had to enter a bracket including the No. 2 and 3 seeds to avoid seeing top-seeded Carroll in the sectional tournament.
The Devils, despite being relatively young and inexperienced, never let any of that phase them.
After getting revenge of No. 2 Trotwood in the second round, Tippecanoe faced off against an old rival in No. 3 Kenton Ridge in Monday’s Division II sectional championship game at Springfield High School, jumping out to a big lead and holding on late for a 40-37 victory that now propels the Devils into a sixth straight district finals appearance.
Tippecanoe improved to 19-5 with the win and will now face 20-4 Franklin in the district final Friday in Mason, looking to earn a fifth straight trip to the regional tournament.
“This is a nice little run we’ve made,” said Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman, who is in his fourth year as the Devils’ coach. “Hopefully we can get one more (district title).”
The Devils have also run into Kenton Ridge, which finished its season 21-4, a number of times during this lengthy run. The Devils also defeated the Cougars in last year’s sectional final on their way to a regional final appearance, and in the 2014-15 season Tippecanoe eliminated Kenton Ridge in the regional semifinal round on its way to another regional runner-up finish.
But even though the Devils were never behind in the game, beginning the second quarter on an 11-0 run to gain an advantage that lasted them to the final buzzer, the Cougars made things interesting in the game’s final three minutes, trimming what had been a lead as big as 13 points early in the fourth all the way down to two at 39-37 with 12.9 seconds remaining — and even getting two shots at potential game-tying 3s in the final 10 seconds.
“Chalk that up to our inexperience in big games,” Holderman said. “I hope we can get over that, but again I thought we did a nice job of bouncing back and not letting that overcome us. We hit some big shots at the end and made some free throws, and holding (Kenton Ridge’s Mikala) Morris in check was big, too.”
Stopping Morris — who entered the game averaging 27 points and 20.5 rebounds per game — was critical for the Devils to even have a chance in the game. And that’s exactly what they did early, holding Morris to only four first-half points and forcing nine Kenton Ridge turnovers while making good on their own chances, only turning it over three times and going 9 for 16 from the field to build a 22-13 halftime lead.”
“We executed our gameplan defensively pretty well,” Holderman said. “Toward the end there, we kind of forgot our gameplan defensively and let them get away with a few easy looks at the basket, and Morris is just a beast in there. She’s going to get her looks down there.”
But after the Cougars, spurred by back-to-back buckets by Morris to start the second half, cut the lead to four at 22-18, the Devils recorded a five-point swing that proved to be big come the final buzzer. Brooke Aselage scored on a putback, drew a foul and hit the free throw — and Kenton Ridge was called for another foul as the free throw was in the air. That shot counted and Tippecanoe got the ball back, and Kendall Clodfelter hit a short jumper to push the lead back to 27-18 at the time and led 29-20 after three quarters.
“That was huge,” Holderman said. “In games like this, you need to take advantage anytime there’s a mistake like that. Kendall did get chucked on that play, it was a good call, and thank goodness we cashed it in with a basket.”
Ashleigh Mader finished off a fast break with a layup and Katie Salyer scored on a drive to begin the fourth quarter and give the Devils their biggest lead of the game at 33-20 with 5:27 to play, and Tippecanoe maintained a 35-23 lead with roughly three minutes to go — and that’s when Kenton Ridge began its comeback.
Kirsten Wiley hit a 3, then she grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the Tippecanoe lead to 35-28 with two minutes to go, and a pair of free throws by Morris made it a five-point game with 1:34 to play.
And from there, the Cougars began fouling in an effort to catch up — which didn’t bode well for the Devils, who struggled to make free throws in their previous win over No. 2 Trotwood. But this time, Tippecanoe went 5 for 8 down the stretch, including Clodfelter hitting a pair with 29.6 seconds left to make the score 39-34.
“The biggest thing was to watch our poise. I thought we held ourselves together pretty well,” Holderman said. “We had a couple mistakes there back to back, but we rebounded from that. We let them get off a 3 and a couple easy buckets, but the bottom line is at least today we stepped up and hit some free throws.”
Mariah Baker hit a 3 to keep the Cougars alive, though, cutting the lead to 39-37 with 12.9 seconds left. Clodfelter hit a free throw to make it a three-point game with 10.6 seconds left, giving Kenton Ridge possession and forcing them to go for three to force overtime. The Cougars got a decent look but the shot went long, but they ball went out of bounds off of a Tippecanoe player, giving them one final chance with 0.7 seconds on the clock. The Cougars got another quality look, but this time Clodfelter was able to get a finger on it and the shot came up short, allowing the Devils to escape with the win.
“With the way Morris rebounds, it scared me to put them on the line — let them shoot a one-and-one, make one, miss one and have her get an offensive rebound. So I elected to guard the 3-point line. They were out of timeouts, so we were just going to let time run out,” Holderman said. “And then with 0.7 on the clock, it was the same theory, because a layup wasn’t going to beat us. But for whatever reason, we did some crazy stuff and they got a good look at a 3 — though Kendall got a tip on that last one that came up short.”
Morris finished with a game-high 16 points — 12 of those in the second half — and 11 rebounds, Baker added 12 points and seven rebounds, Wiley finished with seven points and Joshlynn Johnson and Mallory Armentrout each scored two.
Clodfelter led the Devils with 13 points and eight rebounds, Mader finished with 12 points, Mackenzie Smith had four points, Aselage had three points and six rebounds, Katie Hemmelgarn had three points and four rebounds, Jillian Brown had three points and Salyer chipped in two.
“All in all, it was a great team win, coming in as a No. 4 seed and with everyone else not expecting us to get out,” Holderman said. “This team in our locker room believes in each other, and I thought we played pretty well for 29 minutes.”
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.