AKRON — You can’t win them all. Even mighty Tippecanoe Valley — which rode a 32-game unbeaten Three Rivers Conference streak stretching back to 2014 into Thursday’s home game with Northfield and was well on its way to another perfect conference season — proved no exception to the rule.
With Thursday’s TRC showdown knotted up late in the fourth quarter, Northfield freshman Addi Baker drew contact driving the baseline and converted the second of her two free throws with just 1.8 seconds on the clock to seal a 53-52 shocker in Akron.
“It was a source of pride,” said Valley coach Chris Kindig of his team’s three straight unbeaten conference campaigns. “We’ve had some pretty good TRC opponents over the past three or four years. Obviously Rochester has been really good, Wabash has been good.
“It’s tough to lose a game like this where we really had our opportunities to put the thing away and weren’t able to do it. That just makes it kind of tough.”
The ICGSA 3A No. 4 Lady Vikings (14-2, 4-1 TRC) led the Norsemen (11-5, 5-1 TRC) by eight going into the final frame, and still held a tentative, 49-46 advantage when Sophie Bussard drew Northfield junior Ariel Dale’s fourth foul with only 2:18 to go. After Bussard knocked down her first freebie, Northfield head coach Melissa Allen was charged with a technical for arguing the call, giving the home team ample opportunity to stretch that four-point edge coming down the wire.
But after the tech, the momentum seemed to swing the other way instead.
Bussard missed her second charity toss, and fellow junior starter Emily Peterson missed both her free throws on the tech call, Valley’s only three misses at the line in the fourth period and more than half their misses from the stripe for the night as they went 19 of 24 from the line opposite Northfield. Asia O’Connor converted on both her opportunities when Norsemen point guard Kelcie Thomson fouled out to give the Vikings a little, 52-46 cushion with 1:50 to play, but two straight old-fashioned three-pointers by freshman Kyra Kennedy and Dale erased the advantage with the clock still reading 1:10.
Valley sophomore Jillian Walls took her chance on a wide open 3 from the wing with 32 seconds left, and after Ally Keaffaber cleared the defensive rebound, Baker drew Peterson’s fifth foul on the other end. She missed the front end of her two free throws to keep the Vikings’ hopes alive, and Kindig called timeout to give her some time to think about the next one.
But after a pep talk from Northfield assistant Randy Keaffaber, the freshman capped off her 16-point, 10-rebound night with the game-winner with under two seconds to go.
“Randy pulled her aside and talked to her. I’m sure he was telling her just to calm down and relax, and it’s just another shot and just do what you can do,” said Allen of the game’s last timeout.
“It was disappointing from the standpoint that you put yourself in position to win, you have the ball, you miss three free throws in a row that could’ve put you up eight or nine points with about two minutes to go there,” Kindig said. “You just have to finish games, and for the most part we’ve done that this year. We’ve had some close games. Hopefully we learn from this and we move on.”
Playing without usual starter Olivia Trippiedi, Valley got off to a slow start Thursday, falling behind by as many as 10 points early in the second stanza. But the home team finally got its offense rolling midway through the second, and junior Makenzie Woodcox’s post bucket on a Bussard short corner pass at the 3:10 stop of the frame sparked a run of 10 unanswered points to tie the game up at 22-all. Keaffaber’s lay-in with three seconds left in the first half gave the Norsemen a tentative, 24-22 advantage at the half, but the home team used a 10-1 run featuring a pair of 3-pointers by Bussard and Addy Miller to get out front, 35-27, in the third. Peterson’s fading wing 3 at the buzzer kept the Vikings out front by eight, 40-32, headed into the fourth before Northfield started chipping away in the fourth.
The Norsemen went 6 of 9 from the floor in the final frame and knocked down 4 of 6 free throws to steal the win on Valley’s home floor, snapping an 11-game win streak by the Vikings as well as their 32-game unbeaten TRC streak.
“Our confidence changed. They struggle against teams that want to come out and guard us, and we just told them at halftime that they needed to be aggressive and go to the basket, and they started going to the basket instead of settling for 3s,” explained Allen.
Bussard finished with game-highs of 19 points and seven assists to go with five rebounds, while Peterson scored 16 with five rebounds, and Miller finished with 12 points, three rebounds and a pair of steals as the Vikings played without Trippiedi. Walls scored just two points with two rebounds and two steals running the point intermittently but looked relatively solid playing in the starting lineup. Kindig certainly wasn’t making any excuses for being short-handed Thursday.
“As a senior you’d expect them to be able to handle the pressure at the end of the game,” said the Vikings boss of Trippiedi. “I think it would’ve helped us to have her obviously come out, but there were plays out there to be made that we just didn’t make… Obviously we would’ve liked to have her, but I think Jillian still is playing well.”
Baker led Northfield with her double-double, and Dale chipped in 15 points, four rebounds, two steals and an assist as the Norsemen heated up the TRC race as Manchester remained the only unbeaten TRC team left at 4-0, trailed closely by Northfield, Valley and Rochester with one loss apiece. With four games left in their Three Rivers slate, the Vikings still have a chance to win at least a share of the conference crown, but their margin for error just shrunk considerably.
“I still feel like the team in white was the best team tonight. We’re just going to have to come together as a team these last few weeks before the sectional. Obviously we’ve got some work to do, but hopefully the girls will come back and fight,” said Kindig.
Valley’s JV also fell short in its game Thursday, 42-34.
Sidney Wagner and Emma Craig led the JV Vikings offensively with 12 and 11 points, respectively, while Wagner finished with four steals, and Emma Craig pulled down seven rebounds with three steals in the loss.
Valley returns to action at NorthWood next Tuesday, when Northfield plays at Eastern.