By Timothy Kays
BRYAN: February 22, 2014 – The D-IV Sectional championship game between the Fayette Lady Eagles and the Hilltop Lady Cadets could be summed up in a single word…parity. While the Lady Eagles boasted a lineup that featured a starting five that had four girls that could hit from the concession stand and a pivot in Jessie Wheeler that is equally lethal in the paint, the Lady Cadets’ snarling defense was an excellent compliment to an offense that featured the inside-outside threats of Hannah Bleikamp and Emily Armbruster. Neither team was able to maintain a lead for three quarters of play, until the fourth. Down the stretch, it was free throws that made the difference as Fayette repeated as Sectional champs with a 56-49 win over Hilltop.
The parity between the two teams goes back to the regular season. On January 10, the defending BBC champion Lady Eagles traveled to The Bunker and handed Hilltop a 57-45 defeat. One month later, the Lady Cadets marched into Fayette and with a 63-61 win not only squelched the Lady Eagles’ Senior Night celebration, they also denied Fayette’s run at a second consecutive conference crown. This night was a reset on a neutral floor, and a go for all the Sectional marbles.
The Lady Eagles established their outside shooting game early, and were getting solid contributions all the way around. The Lady Cadets had an answer for every run though, and her name was Armbruster. Driving into the paint, she was able to connect on shots that appeared to be impossible whilst drowning in a sea of Purple and Gold. Hilltop held a 14-10 lead going into the second, but the back and forth nature of the game put the Lady Eagles up by a deuce at the half.
When Hilltop took an 8-6 edge in third period scoring, the game went into the fourth period knotted at 36-36. It was in the fourth period that the free throws became paramount, and the Lady Eagles’ not-so-secret weapon came to the fore in the person of Taylor Griffiths.
Readers of this newspaper will remember a piece written about Griffiths while she was still in the seventh grade. Coach John Winzeler told her of a free throw shooting contest sponsored by the fraternal organization, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Having been taught the art of free throw shooting by her father, John, Taylor went on to become the Ohio champion, then move on to eventually finish fourth in the nation. Of all the people to put on the foul line, Griffiths is the one you do not want to see if there is the hope of a miss, and for the most part she didn’t.
Adding up the numbers from the field, the game was squarely in the hands of Hilltop. The Lady Cadets had a 12-11 advantage in two-point field goals, and a 6-5 edge in threes. Where the difference came was at the line where Fayette had a 28-11 edge in opportunities. Half of the opportunities for Fayette were in the hands of Griffiths, who made good on eleven of the shots to insure the win. Of her 18 total points, 11 came at the charity stripe, and many of them were at clutch time.
Kaela Seiler joined Griffiths with a team-high 18 points for the Lady Eagles, while Alexis Fruchey hit for 8 points, and Wheeler and Paige Keefer each contributed 6.
With the loss came the final curtain for a gifted group of Hilltop seniors in Bleikamp, Armbruster, LeAnn Joost, Kailey Creamer and Kayla Settlemire.
“I really enjoyed coaching the girls this season,” said an emotional Hilltop Head Coach Aaron Schmidt. “I had a great group of girls, from seniors through freshmen, and I can’t say enough about the senior class that I am losing…you don’t replace girls like that. You put people in. People come and people go…but you don’t replace a group like that. There’s a special place in my heart for all those girls; they were our leaders.”
Fighting back tears, he continued, “They put it all out there. You respect that as a coach, and you respect them as people. If they’re going to put that much into a basketball game, then they’re going to put that much into their lives in being good people and a good part of society. You appreciate people like that. You need to take the time, step back and appreciate what you’ve got because sometimes, you can take it for granted.”
Armbruster closed out her career with a game-high 26 for the Ladies in Red, while Bleikamp hangs up her hightops with a 10 point game added onto her already 1,000-point plus career. Joost ended up with 8 points, Creamer had 3 points and Destiny Denton had a deuce.
Fayette moves on to the Archbold District where their first test will come from the Holgate Lady.Tigers
SCORING BY QUARTER:
Fayette 10 20 6 20 – 56
Hilltop 14 14 8 13 – 49
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org