SHELBYVILLE — Coming off its biggest victory of the season, a terrific 49-48 overtime thriller over Bloomington South on Friday night in the Shelbyville Sectional semifinal, the Columbus East girls basketball team has no time to celebrate.
The Olympians have the ominous task of trying to upset the state’s No. 2-ranked team, Columbus North, tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the championship game.
Even so, East has earned that opportunity.
East overcame an 11-point, first-half deficit and a five-point deficit with 3½ minutes left in regulation to pull off the upset of the Panthers, who had beaten the Olympians 71-60 on Jan. 27.
“We lost to Bloomington South during the season, and we were told if we kept it close, that we were going to be able to finish it,” East senior Megan Galle said.
Galle was having a game to forget until the final minute-and-a-half of regulation. Held scoreless the first 30½ minutes, she buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 42.
“That’s all my coaches tell me, the next one’s going to go in,” Galle said. “Coach had us run one of our plays out of our offense on that, and he told me to shoot it, so I shot it, and it was a good time for it to go in.”
Then, Galle came up with three steals in the final 50 seconds of regulation to keep the game tied.
“I usually look into their eyes and see where they’re anticipating to pass it,” Galle said. “So toward the end of the game, our defense has to be even more energetic than our offense.”
Bloomington South (13-9) scored first in the overtime, but Audrey Wetzel drilled a 3-pointer to give the Olympians (13-11) a 45-44 lead. After the Panthers regained the lead, Gracie Hatton scored from inside to give East the lead for good at 47-46 with 1:56 remaining.
Wetzel gave the Olympians a 49-46 lead with a basket at the 1:30 mark. After Bloomington South scored to cut the lead to 49-48, East turned it over in the backcourt with 50 seconds left.
The Panthers then played for a final shot, and Annie Gillard’s 3-pointer from the left wing bounced off the rim.
“We probably played our best defense the last 34 seconds because as time was winding down, they were getting farther and farther away from the basket,” East coach Danny Brown said.
“Working together, we talked about it the whole way here, all week, in the timeouts,” said Wetzel, who scored a game-high 20 points. “We have to have each other’s back, and if we can work together, we can accomplish anything.”
Bloomington South led 20-9 with just over three minutes left in the first half when the Olympians went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 20-18. The Panthers scored in the closing seconds of the half and put up the first four points of the second half to take a 26-18 lead, but East answered with a 12-0 run to take a 30-26 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
“We picked it up a lot better defensively during the second quarter,” Brown said. “We played a lot of people tonight. Plus, we started executing our offense. The nerves are always there at the start of a sectional game.”
Hatton finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, leading the Olympians to a 28-27 advantage on the boards.
“The difference is that we really played together and passed the ball and worked as a team more in the second half,” Hatton said.
“We never gave up,” Brown said. “That’s the heart of this team, and we’ve proven it here in the last five or six games. We can play.”
Now, the task is to try to take down North.
“We just have to continue to play the basketball that we’ve been playing,” Galle said.
“Obviously, we have to stop Ali (Patberg), but other than that, I think we just have to play our game, and we’ll be OK,” Wetzel said. “Tonight, we beat a team we hadn’t beat since I’ve been here. We weren’t supposed to win that game, but we did. I think if we don’t change that much, we can do it.”