ST. LEON — The girls basketball sectional is supposed to be hosted by Columbus East next year, but the Olympians might be thinking about petitioning to have it moved back to East Central.
East pulled out a 34-32 win against the host Trojans Saturday night in St. Leon to win their first sectional since 2011. That also came at East Central, the last time the sectional was played there.
“We all love St. Leon,” Columbus East coach Danny Brown said. “Me and my wife are thinking about getting a summer home over here, a vacation home, we like it do much. St. Leon has been good to us. I just hope we don’t have to wait seven more years to get another one.”
That certainly was the case this week. The Olympians (17-9) won three games in five days, culminating in Saturday night’s thriller against the Trojans (16-10) that came down to the closing seconds.
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Columbus East battled back from a seven-point first-half deficit to take a 30-26 lead with 3:51 left in the game. East Central took a 31-30 lead on a 3-pointer by Hayley Tippitt with 1:07 left, and the Olympians tied it on a free throw by Addy Galarno with 56 seconds remaining.
A Britney Ballard layup with 11 seconds left gave Columbus East a 33-31 lead. The Trojans’ Brilan McCory hit the first of two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining, but missed the second, and Galarno rebounded and hit the first of two free throws with 1.7 seconds left. Tippitt grabbed the rebound, but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
“It’s a tough win, but we gutted it out,” Brown said. “I have to give a lot of credit to our three seniors (Ballard, Galarno and Kristen Lyons). They just wouldn’t let us lose this game.”
Ballard finished with a game-high 14 points, including the game-winner. Galarno added nine points.
Lyons did not score, but grabbed seven rebounds and played solid post defense on East Central’s 6-foot-4 Alyssa Robben and 6-3 Logan Cox.
“I know I didn’t score, but I was really trying to focus on shutting down those big girls and blocking out and getting as many rebounds because I knew that game would come down to the wire, and I had confidence in our team,” Lyons said. “We wanted it, and we stepped up on defense and made some big plays.”
Claire Cunningham helped out Lyons in the post. Cunningham had eight points and six rebounds and helped hold Robben to 11 points and Cox to seven.
“We improved on our defense toward the end of the game and tried to apply more pressure,” Cunningham said. “They have really good big girls, and we had to apply pressure on them. We knew if we could shut them down, we could win this.”
The Olympians jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but the Trojans came back to lead 7-5 after one quarter. East Central extended the lead to as big as 14-7 with two minutes left in the first half.
Columbus East came back to within 17-13 at halftime, then got a banked-in 3-pointer from Ballard to begin the third quarter. After a McCory basket pushed the Trojans’ lead back to 3, Whitley Rankin drained a 3-pointer — her only point of the game — to tie it.
“I told myself that I got the ball, and I had a chance to shoot a 3, I was going to make it,” Rankin said. “We needed that 3, so when I got it, I just fired it up there, and I knew it was going in because that was my mindset.”
East Central quickly regained the lead on a 3 by Tippitt, but the Olympians took a 25-23 lead after three quarters. Columbus East went up by as many as four in the fourth, setting up the late-game drama.
The Olympians offensively went back to what they did a the start of the year with the double-high pick-and-roll and tried to bring Robben and Cox away from the basket. Defensively, Columbus East, which gave up only 24, 29 and 32 points in its three sectional games, often double-teamed the Trojans’ twin towers.
“We just wanted to front the (Robben) girl and made sure one person was in front and one person behind, and we just wanted to block out to the best of our ability and get rebounds,” Ballard said.
The Olympians advance to play Bedford North Lawrence, a 57-55 double-overtime winner against Jeffersonville in the Seymour Sectional final, at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Columbus North Regional. Center Grove and Castle will play in the second semifinal, and the winners will meet at 8 p.m. for the title.
Saturday’s win came one night after Columbus avenged a regular-season loss to North with a 39-29 semifinal victory. That also snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Bull Dogs.
But as good as that felt to East, Saturday’s win was even sweeter.
“I couldn’t feel any better,” Galarno said. “(Friday) night was a pretty big win, but this one was definitely a better feeling.”