Columbus East forward Audrey Wetzel looks like she would struggle against a good-sized fan in a hallway.
Yet there was the razor-thin freshman Saturday against an exceptional Madison team battling for 15 points and eight rebounds against much-bigger and more-experienced players in the paint.
And as that kind of effort spread to every player on the team, the Olympians caught fire for an unlikely 66-63 overtime victory that might signal a turning point for Danny Brown’s team.
Coming into the game at 8-7, East was a huge underdog to the Lady Cubs, whose 13-3 record before the game only included losses to some of the state’s elite teams.
Four minutes into the game, it looked like Madison’s class simply was too much for East. The Cubs led 15-5 as forward Cadie Povaleri and 6-foot center Olivia Crozier were setting up camp under the basket.
But when the Olympians (9-7, 3-3 Hoosier Hills Conference) started attacking offensively to the rim and switched to a heavy man-to-man pressure defense, the tone of the game changed.
By the end of the first quarter, East actually had passed Madison (13-4, 5-2) at 18-17 until Povaleri’s nearly full-court heave went down at the buzzer for a 20-18 Cubs’ lead. It was a heavyweight battle the rest of the way.
Every time the Cubs would seem on the verge of taking control, East would punch back.
East star Allyson Bunch (20 points, eight rebounds) fed Wetzel for a breakaway lay-up to knot the game at 54 with 40 seconds remaining. The Olympians smothered Povaleri (21 points) as she tried to hit the game-winner on the other end, and it was off to overtime.
Bunch scored six of East’s 12 overtime points. She hit one of two free throws to give the Olympians a 64-62 lead with 32 seconds remaining in overtime.
Madison coach Willie Humes, a former East assistant, called time out and designed a play for Povaleri to drive to the basket. It worked perfectly, except that Bunch chose to hammer Povaleri to draw her fifth foul instead of allowing her to make the lay-up.
Povaleri, who appeared to injure her ankle in the third quarter and then struggled the rest of the way, made the first free throw, but missed the second.
East, which couldn’t keep Crozier (16 points) off the offensive glass most of the game, got it done as Sarah Loesch picked up the rebound. Madison immediately swarmed all over Loesch and the ball popped free, but officials ruled that Brown had called time out after Loesch secured the ball.
The Cubs fouled on the in-bounds pass and East guard Courtney Hunter made both her free throws with seven seconds remaining for the 66-63 final. Madison never got off a final shot.
“That was exhausting,” an elated Brown said. “I thought that was an energy-draining game. It was just one of those games where you use everything possible. It was a fun game to coach and I am so proud of our effort.
“We’re starting to come together.”
Indeed, it took a village for East to beat Madison. Bunch struggled with her outside shot, but she went inside the paint to pick up her offensive game. Kristen Bellinger and Loesch made a huge impact inside the paint to stop Madison’s dominance.
East forward Mikala Lomax had a key offensive rebound and put-back to help East take a 63-61 lead in overtime. Hunter, East’s point guard, picked up the pace in the second half, which seemed to throw Madison’s defense out of whack.
Wetzel’s aggressive play got it all started. “You just have to push your way in front,” the freshman said. “It can be scary out there playing through it.”
If East had any fear, it didn’t show it. “It’s always a fun game for us to play against Madison,” Bunch said. “Everyone loves Willie (Humes).
“But hopefully this boosts our confidence.”