By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – Time and time again, it’s been said that you can’t define the heart of a champion. For the second night in a row, the defending state champions have proven doubters dead wrong.
Friday night, NorthWood pulled the upset card again, taking out Tippecanoe Valley in the Wawasee Girls Basketball Sectional semi-finals, setting up a finals rematch with Lakeland, which beat West Noble by the skin of its teeth.
NorthWood 62, Tippecanoe Valley 61 (OT)
While most eyes were on scoring threats Sidney Wagner of Tippecanoe Valley and Alea Minnich of NorthWood, it was a pair of cast members that stole the show.
Kendal Miller had the game of her life, scoring a career-high 30 points, and didn’t do it the way she typically has piled up points over her career. An assertive Miller hit six three-pointers, a pair of stone cold bombs in the fourth quarter to rally Wood back to level after trailing by five after three played. Her three from the wing made the score 48-47 Valley, but opened the door for Bre Wise to dive in and get the hoop and the harm, giving Wood an emphatic 50-48 lead.
Miller’s ice in her veins showed in hitting a runner from about 10 feet to tie the game at 55, sending the game into overtime.
“I really felt at one point that any shot I took was going to go in,” Miller said. “I had a lot of confidence. That shot I hit that tied the game, I was thinking the whole time that this is going in. There is no other option. I got a good look at it and it felt good leaving my hands.”
But after Valley’s Ashley Butler made 1-2 free throws to give Valley a 62-61 lead, NorthWood won a jump ball off a Wise miss, setting up another improbable moment. Valley wasn’t expecting Macy Lengacher to take a go-ahead shot, but she did on an inbounds play and the soft jumper from 10 feet rattled in, giving NorthWood the 62-61 lead.
Wagner would get two looks at a go-ahead shot, but neither would connect, sending NorthWood to the championship round.
“I knew this was going to be a tough matchup, that is not a two-win team over there,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Chris Kindig. “We knew it from the first time we played them, yeah we beat them, and yeah they had some losses, but their talent level, especially with those three girls they had from the state team, we knew they could play. We knew we had to play well, and at times, we did. They just hit a shot when they had to, otherwise it’s us sitting there with a one-point win.”
Minnich was 8-8 from the free throw line in a full night of 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Black Swish. Lengacher would end with eight points and Wise finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
The loss for Valley was a crushing one, but was also filled with historical moments. Wagner, the do-it-all guard for the Vikings, reached a milestone by scoring her 1,000th point in the game. A three-pointer at the end of the third quarter pushed Wagner over the threshold, and with her 27 points in her final game, Wagner finished with 1,012 career points.
“I mean, yeah, I’m bummed about losing, but this was an awesome game,” said Wagner. “We played a great game, but so did NorthWood. KayKay (Mellott) hit some big shots, it was just a fun game. Don’t like losing, but it’s been a fun season with my teammates. Gonna miss this.”
Valley also had another scoring achievement met, where Kaydence Mellott hit four three-pointers Friday night to finish with 86 on the season, which is a new single-season record for bombs. Mellott finished her night with 17 points.
Hayley Backus added 10 points for the Vikings, which bow out of the season 13-9 overall.
NorthWood (3-13) will meet Lakeland (19-7) in the sectional championship Saturday night in a rematch of the 2020 final, which NorthWood won 56-34 at Lakeland.
Lakeland 49, West Noble 47
In another game decided at the buzzer, it was a three-pointer from Madison Keil that pushed the Lakers to the finals.
After Lillian Mast hit a pair of free throws to put the Chargers up 47-46, Lakeland went to its ace, Bailey Hartsough, for the winning shot. Hartsough’s drive to the hoop was true, but her shot rattled out and held for a jump ball. Lakeland retained possession, and in its final choice, Keil stood open in front of her bench and fired the three in with two seconds to go.
Keil, who buried a pair of key three-pointers to knock Central Noble out on Tuesday night, finished with eight points. Hartsough had a game-high 19 points.
Mast finished with 15 points for West Noble (16-6) and Nichelle Phares added 12 points.
Lakeland is still searching for its first title since 1996, NorthWood attempting to secure its 26th sectional title.