WARSAW – The tears flowing freely outside the Warsaw girls basketball locker room told the tale Saturday night.
A season to remember ended in heartbreaking fashion for the hosts in a gut-wrenching 47-44 semi state loss to Fort Wayne South Side.
The No. 11 Archers turned the tables on No. 8 Warsaw by staging a superb second-half rally to earn the program’s first-ever semi state championship by stunning the Tigers in front of about 4,500 frenzied fans in an awesome atmosphere in the Tiger Den.
South, now 24-3, advances to play No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence (27-0) for the Class 4-A state championship next Saturday night in the Hulman Center in Terre Haute. BNL topped No. 6 Roncalli 66-52 in overtime Saturday night to win the Class 4-A South Semistate game played at BNL. South lost a 63-39 final in a regular-season contest at BNL on Jan. 26.
Warsaw, in the semi state for the first time since 2004, sees its stellar season come to a close at 24-2.
South, whose only other semi state appearance came in 2008, erased a seven-point halftime deficit to rally for the win.
Warsaw, which had made a living by being a strong second-half team in the postseason, was outscored 25-15 in the final half. The Tigers had 14 turnovers in the final half versus the quick and athletic South squad, including 10 in the pivotal third quarter in which the Archers outscored the hosts 14-7 to tie the game.
Lakyn Gulley made her only four points of the game the biggest of the night for South. The junior guard hit 4-of-4 free throws in the final 15.1 seconds, including a pair with 3.2 left to make it 47-44. The Tigers had a desperation shot at the final horn from beyond the 3-point arc, but it was well off the mark.
Senior guard DeJoyah Johnson led the Archers with 11 points and eight rebounds. Senior center Ariana Simmons, an IPFW recruit, had 10 points and nine rebounds. The Archers had a 33-28 rebounding edge by grabbing 21 offensive rebounds to overcome a 16-of-51 shooting effort (including 4-of-19 on 3-pointers).
Junior Nikki Grose, who hit two free throws with 4.1 seconds left to pull her team within 45-44, was outstanding to lead Warsaw. The 6-1 center scored a game-high 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and had a game-high 13 rebounds. Grose scored all eight of her team’s points in the final quarter.
Standout Jennifer Walker-Crawford finished a brilliant senior season with an 18-point, five rebound effort for the Tigers. Senior Lindsay Baker had five points, all in the first quarter, for Warsaw, which only had four players score in the game.
“In the second half and really in the third quarter especially we did some uncharacteristic things,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter outside the Warsaw locker room as teary-eyed players filed out. “It was the little things that we’ve done all season that came back and were huge against us tonight.
“We lost our heads in that third quarter and played too fast. We sped up after controlling the tempo and being patient in the first half like we talked about doing. We didn’t block out either. That was a huge key to the game. We knew they got a lot of their points on offensive rebounds and that really hurt us tonight.
“South played great defense and they sped us up. They are a great team. They took care of the ball better than we did at the end and they stepped up and hit their free throws.”
Warsaw took a 42-41 lead on a jumper by Grose with less than three minutes to play. The Archers regained the lead for good on a driving bucket by Johnson with 2:30 left that made it 43-42. With South opting to milk the clock, Grose forced a traveling call with 1:09 to play. The two teams than traded turnovers before South’s Chelsea Rogers intercepted an ill-advised Tiger pass with 28 seconds to play. Gulley then stepped up huge with her four clutch free throws to seal the win.
The Tigers led 17-14 after the opening period as Walker-Crawford scored seven points and Baker five. Warsaw led 29-22 at halftime as Walker-Crawford had 13 points and Grose 10. The Archers were 8-of-29 from the field in the first half, including just 1-of-11 from 3-point range. South turned up its defensive pressure in the third quarter and also got huge treys from Rogers and Lynnia Noel to rally with a 14-7 burst to tie the game at 36-36 heading into the final frame.
“We turned up the defensive pressure in that third quarter,” said South coach Juanita Goodwell. “We put more pressure on the ball, trapped more and sped them up. Down seven, we knew our come back had to be with our defense.
“The key word was believe. At half, we told them to still believe that we still had a chance. We just had to keep attacking in the second half and we had to finish. We had to finish cutbacks. We also hit a couple of key threes in that third quarter. The girls just stayed in the game and stayed mentally tough.
“Only playing five home games this year prepared us for a moment like this. We wanted the ball in Gulley’s hands at the end. She hit two free throws in the sectional final to beat Homestead. She’s cool under pressure and she sealed the deal for us tonight.”
Warsaw shot 17-of-40 from the field, including 1-of-7 on 3-pointers. The Tigers hit 9-of-12 free throws, while South was 11-of-14 from the stripe.
Walker-Crawford, one of three senior starters for Warsaw, was emotional as she talked about her team.
“I really love this team,” said Walker-Crawford, her eyes filling with tears. “We have no regrets. We left it all on the court tonight. It’s just really tough. I couldn’t ask for a better team to be a part of. We put up a saying that read, you shouldn’t be disappointed it’s over, but grateful that it began. It’s been a blessing for me to be a part of this team and to have had these teammates and coaches.”
Harter says good bye to five seniors in Walker-Crawford, Baker, Melanie Holladay, Sarah Ray and Gabby Monroy.
“These seniors made tremendous sacrifices and put in the time in the offseason to put Lady Tiger basketball back on the map,” said Harter.
“They have nothing to hang their heads about. I love them.”