Lady Eagles 2019 sectional champs
Jared Rogers Photo
No one could have foreseen what would become of the IHSAA Class A sectional 60 championship game held at Waldron High School on Monday, February 4, as students, parents, and fans packed the gymnasium prior to the scheduled 7:30 p.m. tip-off. Even before anyone knew history was to be made that night, the atmosphere was electric, with both schools stocking a full pep club behind the roars of their respective pep bands.
It was two and a half hours later, after five overtime periods, which amounts to 20 minutes of extra play, that the Jac-Cen-Del Lady Eagles earned a 67-61 victory by hitting free throws and making late defensive stops. It was announced soon after the final buzzer that the game was to go down as the longest in IHSAA girls basketball tournament history.
For comparison, most high school basketball games are decided after 32 minutes of play. (Four, eight minute quarters.) NCAA basketball games last a total of 40 minutes, as do WNBA games, while NBA games are the longest in the sport at 48 minutes. Monday night’s thriller took 52 minutes before a victor was decided. Several of those minutes, especially later in the night, took the crowd on an emotional roller coaster ride they won’t soon forget.
The stage was set for a tough game prior to the tip, as it was the second meeting between the two teams this season. Waldron defeated Jac-Cen-Del, in Osgood, by a score of 49-36 on December 4, when the Lady Mohawks were ranked slightly ahead of the Lady Eagles statewide in class A basketball. That game went to the halftime break nearly even, before Waldron’s defense forced several JCD turnovers in the second half that led the Lady Mohawks to the win.
At the sectional final, JCD entered the game ranked fifth in the state, compared to Waldron’s ninth placement. (According to the MaxPreps database based on team record and strength of schedule.) Both teams defeated top-20 class A teams to make it to the final. Both teams also shared a similar per game scoring average, JCD at 54.5 compared to Waldron at 50.9.
Waldron controlled the opening tip, but both teams came up dry after deliberate first possessions. JCD senior Mariah Day first scored for her Lady Eagles by hitting two free throws. Both sides traded scores until the board read six points to eight in favor of Waldron midway through the first. Thanks to two field goals by JCD sophomore Paige Ledford, followed by a three pointer by freshman Annabelle Williams, the Lady Eagles created a 7-0 scoring run which forced a Waldron timeout with under a minute remaining. The Lady Mohawks came up empty on their final play of the quarter, ending it at 13-8 in favor of JCD.
Undaunted, Waldron went on their own 5-0 scoring run to begin the second quarter. Those scores occurred amid an injury time-out for Lady Mohawks forward Victoria Shaw, who went down with a left knee injury. She would exit the game for the remainder of the half, but returned in the second half.
Lady Eagles sophomore Jalee Rider broke the scoring draught for her team with a lay-up, which put them up 15-13. Coming out of a JCD time-out with around two minutes to play in the half, forward Regan Carroll hit an inside shot off an assist by Mariah Day. Carroll went to the line for the “and-one” but missed. She preceded to grab her own missed shot, and was fouled again on the follow-up, where she made one of two to give JCD an 18-13 advantage. This score would carry to the half after Waldron was unable to get a basket in the final minute of the quarter.
The physicality of the game rose in the third quarter. JCD’s Mariah Day opened with a put-back field goal. Her team then committed two consecutive fouls, and Waldron scored two of their own field goals in a row. At the 2:20 mark, Waldron regained the lead for the first time since the first quarter by a 21-20 advantage.
At this point, emotions boiled over. As Waldron trapped Jalee Rider near her own baseline, a referee whistled for what was to be a jump ball. In the heat of the moment, Rider threw a late elbow, which earned her a technicalfoul. Waldron hit one out of two penalty free throws, and was then awarded possession of the ball.
Before the in-bounds pass, however, there was a lengthy discussion between the referees, both coaches, and the scorekeepers as to how the situation was to be handled, with most of the confusion seemingly caused by the fact that the initial whistle was never clarified as a jump ball. It was decided that the next possession arrow would favor JCD from those discussions.
Waldron hit a field goal on their possession, growing the lead to four, 24-20. This capped off an 11-0 scoring run by the Lady Mohawks. Regan Carroll broke the streak with two free throws for the Lady Eagles, and Paige Ledford then hit a field goal late in the quarter to tie the game at the end of 24:00 minutes, 24-24.
Both teams entered into the one-and-one bonus by the midway point of the fourth quarter, continuing the hard play from the third. Trailing by two points, Paige Ledford again tied up the game with two free throws near the two minute mark, making the score 31-31.
Waldron then took possession of the ball, and began their deliberate offensive movement that was a cornerstone of their strategy on the night. Two minutes ticked down to one, and with no shot attempted, Waldron pulled the ball out and decided to hold for the final shot. A solid defensive effort by JCD held the Lady Mohawks scoreless in those final seconds, and the game headed to overtime with the score remaining at 31-31.
JCD controlled the overtime tip-off, but missed a shot on their first possession. Paige Ledford stole the ball on Waldron’s trip up the floor, however, and was fouled. She went one for two, and Waldron responded by making a three-point play to take a two point lead. JCD forward Anna Hubbard tied the game with a lay-up at 1:34, which caused a Waldron time-out. Like at the end of regulation, the Lady Mohawks implemented a ball control game and held for a late shot. They ended up getting the ball through the hoop with 30 seconds to play on a lay-up.
Now behind, the Lady Eagles called their own time-out to devise an offensive plan. Back in the game, they ended up missing a field goal, but guard Kadee Kuhn was fouled in the rebound mix up that followed with 13.7 seconds to play.
Down two points and with the clock dwindling, the season appeared to rest on the shoulders of the young sophomore. As if shooting free throws in an empty gymnasium, under no pressure, Kuhn nailed both shots, keeping her team’s hopes alive. After another time-out, Waldron missed a three point shot which sent the game to its second overtime at 36-36.
Annabelle Williams opened the second overtime period with a field goal. After a lengthy Waldron possession, JCD earned a defensive stop, and with 1:35 remaining, Kadee Kuhn was again sent to the free throw line. As before, she hit both shots, giving JCD a 40-36 advantage.
The Lady Mohawks, in contrast to their prior ball control strategy, drove the ball immediately down the floor and into the lane for a lay-up to bring the score back within two. Mariah Day was fouled on the following possession, where she hit both shots with 41.6 seconds remaining. That foul sent starting Waldron guard Morgan Wood to the bench for the remainder of the evening, due to fouling out.
After the foul shots by Day, Waldron repeated their play from earlier in the period, hitting a quick field goal to get back within two points. The Lady Mohawks almost stole the ball on the ensuing JCD possession, but Mariah Day was able to gain enough control to call a time-out with 11.7 seconds left. She was fouled immediately on the in-bounds pass, where she hit one of two shots to give her team the 43-40 advantage. That foul sent Waldron’s second starting guard, Hannah Sullivan, to the bench, being her fifth foul as well.
Down three points, Waldron got the ball into the hands of freshman Bella Larrison, who let it fly from long range near the top of the key. The ball swished through the hoop as the final seconds ran out and the buzzer rang, tying the match at 43-43 and sending the game to its third overtime. The noise in the gymnasium at that moment, from the Waldron crowd’s elation, was absolutely deafening.
The Lady Eagles again controlled the tip-off in the third overtime, and Paige Ledford scored an early field goal. Waldron worked the ball down to the 2:31 mark, when a foul sent the Lady Mohawks to the line, where they hit both free throws. Both teams then got a defensive stop in the final two minutes of play which sent the game to its fourth overtime tied at 45-all.
Though neither team ever gave up on their hustle and desire to win, it was evident by the fourth extra period that fatigue was setting in. JCD again controlled the tip, and Mariah Day hit an early field goal. Scores were traded back and forth down to the 30-second mark, when Day was sent to the foul line. She hit both shots to give JCD the 53-49 advantage. Waldron’s Victoria Shaw answered with a three pointer at 18.9 seconds to bring the game back to one point.
The Lady Eagles got the ball in bounds under the opposing hoop, and were able to get the ball to half court, when Waldron’s defense tipped a pass from Kadee Kuhn to Mariah Day. Waldron’s Lauryn Thomas grabbed the ball from Day’s feet, drove into her lane, but was fouled by Regan Carroll before she could take a shot.
With five seconds left, Thomas hit her first attempt to tie the game, but missed her second to take the lead. Regan Carroll grabbed the rebound, but Waldron stole her pass up court. Waldron Head Coach Anthony Thomas quickly called a time-out, but with only .8 seconds remaining, there was little his team could do on their last possession. The game headed to a fifth overtime tied at 53.
That fifth period began like several of the others: JCD controlled the tip and scored a quick two points. Both teams traded scores down to the one minute mark, when the match stood tied at 61. Paige Ledford hit two free throws to give her team the 63-61 advantage, and Regan Carroll grabbed a rebound off of a Waldron miss during the following possession, with just 14.6 seconds remaining. She was fouled, and hit her first attempt to go up 64-61. Waldron called a timeout, which proved effective as Carroll missed her second attempt.
However, just like in the second quarter, Carroll grabbed the rebound on her own shot. The follow-up shot was missed, but Paige Ledford grabbed the rebound and was fouled right after. Ledford hit both shots, giving JCD a 66-61 lead with 11 seconds left. Waldron ran the ball down the court, but missed a three point attempt, with the ball going out of bounds.
On the in-bounds pass, Mariah Day was fouled with three seconds remaining. Hitting one of two from the line sealed the game for her Lady Eagles at 67-61, ending a game for the ages.
It was after Day was fouled in those last three seconds that Jac-Cen-Del players and fans began to sense that they were finally about to persevere. Hugs at half court between Ledford, Kuhn, and Williams gave way to an all-out celebration as the horn sounded and the JCD bench cleared to meet their teammates on the floor.
Reflecting on the match, Lady Eagles Head Coach Scott Smith said, “I’m so proud of the kids, they’ve worked so hard and they gutted it out.” Smith acknowledged the effort and spirit showed by his opponents, saying, “As good as I feel, I feel bad for my friend, Anthony. His kids played their hearts out.”
Senior Mariah Day led her team with 22 points. Day said of the sectional championship win, “It feels amazing. We did not stop fighting. It was really difficult, and we were all dead, but we pushed through.”
Surprisingly, the usually hot shooting guard only went 3/12 from the field, which included being 0/5 from three point range. Day made up for that by shooting 16/18 from the free throw line, 89%, with many of those attempts coming at pressure-packed moments.
Sophomore Paige Ledford followed Day with 19 points, going 7/9 from the line for a 78% average. Rounding out scoring for JCD: Regan Carroll 10, Annabelle Williams seven, Kadee Kuhn four, Anna Hubbard three, and Jalee Rider two. Annabelle Williams hit the team’s only three pointer on the night, while all four of Kadee Kuhn’s points came from key free throws. As a team, JCD shot 32/42 from the stripe for an average of 76%.
Coach Smith reported that working on pressure-free throws and end-of-game ball control is a recurring theme in the team’s practices. “Believe it or not, the last couple of possessions, where we were up, we work on that [play] every week. It’s like, ‘We just did this the other day.'”
Speaking to the free throws, Smith commented, “They had to be dead tired, but they still hit those free throws at the end of the game.”
For Waldron, Victoria Shaw led her team with 24 points. Lauryn Thomas added 12, Megan Bogemann eight, Morgan Wood eight, Abby Adams four, Bella Larrison three, and Hannah Sullivan scored two. The Lady Mohawks end their season with a 17-7 record.
Looking back on the season that led to JCD’s 11th straight sectional title, Assistant Coach Thom Conover said he’s seen tremendous growth in confidence. Since the beginning of the season, he noted that each player has learned and adjusted to their role on the team, and in doing so, have been able to play cohesively when it counts most. “We try to plan it so we peak at the end of the year,” he said, adding, “And that’s what they’ve done.”
Coach Conover echoed the feelings of Coach Smith regarding the game. “It was unbelievable. Neither team wanted to quit and no team deserved to lose this game.”
With the win, the Lady Eagles will continue to regional play on Saturday, February 9, hosted at Southwestern (Shelbyville) High School. They will face the University (Carmel) Lady Trailblazers in the noon game, which follows the 10:00 a.m. matchup between North Central and Greenwood Christian Academy. The winner of each early game will meet for the regional championship at 7:30 p.m.
As of Tuesday, February 5, following the win, JCD moved up to fourth, from fifth, in class A team rankings. University improved to a fifth place ranking, from sixth. The Lady Eagles will enter the game with a 21-5 record, compared to University’s 22-2. In common opponents, both teams have defeated Waldron this season, as University defeated the Lady Mohawks on November 13 by a score of 63-42. The Lady Trailblazers have averaged 70.9 points per game, compared to JCD’s 55.0.