When Columbus East drew Bloomington South in the first round of the Columbus North Sectional, Danny Brown went to work.
The Olympians coach knew he had to come up with a new defensive strategy to slow down the Panthers, who had beaten East 51-37 on New Year’s Eve. Tuesday night, The Olympians held Bloomington South to barely half that total in a 33-28 victory.
“I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game video more than I did this one,” Brown said. “I watched our game with them five times, and we came up with a strategy, and the kids executed it perfectly.”
East (14-11) moves on to play Bloomington North (5-17) in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinals. Columbus North (17-7) will meet East Central (17-6) in the second semifinal.
The Olympians trailed Bloomington South 27-22 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining and 28-24 with less than 3 minutes left. But then East scored the last nine points — all from the free-throw line.
“I think it was actually our willpower,” said East junior Britney Ballard, who finished with 10 points. “We just wanted to win this game so badly, and we came out more intense after we got down by five, and we just wanted to win, so we pushed each other to get it.”
The Olympians actually scored their final 12 points — and 12 of their 14 fourth-quarter points — from the line. They made only seven field goals, but went 19 of 25 from the line.
Addy Galarno hit a pair of free throws to bring East within two with 2:41 remaining, then two more by Kristen Lyons tied the game at 28 with 2:03 left. Two Galarno free throws gave the Olympians the lead for good at the 1:30 mark, and two free throws by Ballard with 36 seconds remaining and another by Whitley Rankin with 20 seconds left iced it.
“We executed when we needed to down the stretch,” Brown said. “We executed our offense once we got the lead and hit some big free throws. Addy, Kristen, Britney, Whitley all hit big free throws for us.”
East jumped out to an early 10-2 lead behind six points from Ballard, but the Panthers (10-2) responded with a 12-3 run to take a 14-13 lead. A basket by Sarah Park gave the Olympians a 15-14 halftime lead.
After both teams managed only four points in the third quarter, East took a 22-21 lead with 5:26 left in the game. Bloomington South then went on a 6-0 run to take its five-point lead and set up the Olympians’ comeback.
“We just picked it up a little bit,” said Galarno, who matched Ballard with 10 points. “We were able to hold onto the ball and knock down our free throws. Really, the key to the game was making our free throws, and once we were able to do that, we knew we had the game locked.”
East outrebounded the Panthers 31-22. Kristen Lyons led the Olympians with nine rebounds.
Bloomington South’s Addisyn Blackwell came off the bench to lead all scorers with 18 points. But the rest of the Panthers managed just 10.
“We’ve been practicing our defense all week, preparing for this game,” Ballard said. “We watched film and studied their offense, and I think that helped us when we played defense on them.”