MIDDLEBURY – Hoosier Hysteria was out in full force Friday night.
The Warsaw and Northridge girls basketball teams made sure of that.
The Tigers and the Raiders put heart and passion on the line from tip-off until the final horn in a thrilling semifinal clash of the Class 4-A Northridge Sectional.
Northridge used an incredible rally in the final minute to tip the Tigers 42-41 in a classic postseason contest.
The two familiar Northern Lakes Conference foes went toe-to-toe for the full 32 minutes in a heavyweight slugfest before the hosts landed the final blow to hand Warsaw a heartbreaking loss on Valentine’s Day.
The Raiders, who trailed 39-31 with 1:42 to play, closed the game with an 11-2 run. Northridge took the lead on a pair of free throws by sophomore Ellie Lengacher with 13.4 seconds left and then held on for dear life.
Warsaw, which beat Northridge 30-28 at home on Jan. 11, had two shots to win the game in the final seconds. A long jumper by senior Eryn Leek was off the mark, but the ball went off a Northridge player with 1.2 ticks left.
The epic contest was not decided until another long jumper by senior Nikki Grose of the Tigers hit off the front of the rim as the final horn sounded.
“I thought that the way things had gone tonight that Grose’s was going in,” admitted Northridge coach Doug Springer, who saw his team score the final eight points of the game. “I just had my head buried in my hands.
“I’m just so proud of my girls for continuing to fight. They are so resilient. This feels good. Warsaw has had our number for so many years. We’ve been building for this, but we haven’t won anything yet.
“We kept the telling the girls there was a lot of time left. We have been through these situations before. We just told them to chip away at the lead. We extended the game late by fouling and we knew who we had to foul.”
Warsaw took its 39-31 lead on a pair of free throws by junior Vicki Harris with 1:42 to play. The Tigers still led 41-34 with 54.2 seconds on the clock after Leek hit 1-2 free throws before missed free throws and key turnovers down the stretch by Warsaw opened the door for the Raiders.
Northridge, which lost 46-35 to Warsaw in the sectional final last year, got a huge 3-pointer from senior Mikaela Zook with 38.2 ticks left to cut the deficit to 41-37. The Raiders then pulled within 41-40 on a triple by junior Taylor Miller with 21 seconds to play. A Warsaw turnover with 16.7 seconds left, followed by two free throws by Lengacher with 13.4 ticks on the clock gave the Raiders the lead for good at 42-41.
The Raiders hit 19-27 from the free throw line, while Warsaw finished 11-19. The Tigers were just 7-13 in the second half, including only 4-10 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
“It’s difficult because our girls played with such passion and energy in the second half,” said Warsaw coach Michelle Harter. “They wanted this game. This was one of the most gut-wrenching and emotional games I’ve been in. I hurt for our seniors. They turned our season around.
“We didn’t make free throws late in the game and they did. That’s the big difference in the game right there. It comes down to hitting free throws and taking care of the ball. We had some key turnovers late and they capitalized on them. The girls executed at the end when we had no timeouts left and gave ourselves a chance to win. That says a lot for our senior leadership.”
The Raiders came out in full attack mode in building a 21-10 halftime lead. The hosts used a 9-0 run in the second period and hit 10-13 free throws in the opening half. Warsaw was just 3-16 from the field and had 10 turnovers in the first 16 minutes.
The Tigers looked like a completely different team in the third quarter. Grose and fellow senior Brooklyn Harrison lit it up as Warsaw used a 13-0 run to take command. Grose scored 11 points and Harrison 10, with each draining a pair of treys, as Warsaw outscored the Raiders 25-5 to take a 35-26 lead at the end of the third period.
“They came out in that first half and attacked and we were on our heels,” Harter said. “We played very tight and not to lose. We told them at halftime to relax. We used a lot of energy to come back like we did in the second half. I think that wears you down to have to battle back like that and it may have affected us late in the game.”
Springer, whose team won the NLC title at 6-1, said that the two-point loss at Warsaw a month ago was a wake-up call for his squad.
“We went down there in January and played scared,” said Springer. “We were at a crossroads after that loss. The girls came back and responded and I couldn’t be more proud of them. To beat them tonight says a lot about how far this program has come.”
Harrison scored 15 points and Grose 13 and 10 rebounds to pace Warsaw. Junior Pam Miller had eight points, Harris three and Leek and junior Jodie Carlson one each. The Tigers shot 13-34 overall from the field, including 4-13 on 3-point tries.
Senior Morgan Miller led the Raiders, who have won their last seven games, with 11 points. Zook and Taylor Miller each had eight and sophomore Baleigh Carithers six. The hosts shot 9-32 from the field, but were a huge 5-12 on treys with Taylor Miller and Carithers each hitting two.
Northridge (17-4) will play Goshen (11-10) for the program’s first-ever sectional title Saturday night at 7 p.m. Goshen defeated Concord 49-41 in the second semifinal Friday night. The Raiders beat the Redskins 50-32 during the regular season.
The Tigers, who started the season 2-7, finish out at 10-10. Harter says good-bye to senior starters Grose, Harrison and Leek, along with Courtney Farling.