Leading by 15 points early in the second quarter Thursday night, Danny Brown knew the game was far from over.
Brown had watched his Columbus East girls basketball team lose all but three points of a 17-point lead against East Central in last year’s sectional semifinals before pulling out an eight-point win. So he knew the Trojans were capable of making a run.
East Central did exactly that Thursday, rallying for a four-point lead late in regulation. But Mikala Lomax hit a baseline jumper with 8 seconds left to send the game to overtime, and the Olympians made 9-of-12 free throws in the extra period to escape with a 57-51 win.
“East Central is a quality team,” Brown said. “I told the girls ‘They’re going to come after you. No lead is safe against them.’ They’re getting better and better. I knew they’d come back, and we’re fortunate to come out of here with a win.”
Trailing 44-40 with just more than two minutes left in regulation, Courtney Hunter and Lomax scored back-to-back baskets to tie the game. East Central’s Rebecca Weber made a free throw with 48 seconds remaining, and Lomax had a chance to give the Olympians the lead but missed a pair of free throws. The Trojans’ Allie McCool made a free throw with 29 seconds left to make it 46-44, and after an East timeout, Hunter found Hunter for the tying basket.
“The ball was in my hands, and I was like ‘Well, here we go,’” said Lomax, who finished with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. “I tried to do all those mechanics and just get it up there well and hope it goes in.”
Freshman Audrey Wetzel hit two free throws to open the overtime, then after a pair of free throws from East Central’s Sami Turner, Wetzel hit two more free throws to give the Olympians the lead for good. East (2-1) went 6-of-14 from the line in regulation before going 9-of-12 in overtime.
“I hate missing free throws, and we were struggling from the line,” Lomax said. “Audrey helped us out a ton. She made her free throws, and it kind of got us into a flow of like ‘All right, let’s hit them,’ and so we did.”
“Audrey Wetzel hit some big free throws for us and Courtney Hunter,” Brown said. “Mikala came through when we needed it down the stretch, as a senior should. She has that experience and hit the big shot to get us into overtime after missing two free throws, and that was the key point in the game.”
The Olympians used a 14-0 run to take a 19-4 lead in the opening minute of the second quarter. East Central (2-1) answered with a 19-5 spurt to cut the lead to 24-23 early in the third quarter. East scored the next eight points to push the lead back to nine, but then the Trojans went on a 21-8 run to take its four-point lead and set up the Olympians’ late-game heroics.
“We really just had to pull together as a team and stop making dumb fouls,” said Kristen Bellinger, who came off the bench to put up career-highs of 11 points and 14 rebounds. “We really pulled together and came out with the win.”
Wetzel finished with 13 points for East, which bounced back from an 81-43 loss Tuesday at Class 2A No. 3 Heritage Christian.
“Especially losing the way we did, we know we’re better than that, so it feels really, really good to get a team win,” Lomax said.