DAYTON — After losing the opportunity to play in the Division II state semis last season due to COVID, Carroll wanted another shot with last year’s roster fairly intact.
The Patriots received that final shot Friday against Napoleon. And it almost went in to tie the game.
Megan Leraas took a pass from Ava Lickliter and lofted a running three-pointer that was just a tad off the mark as time expired, nearly completing a dramatic comeback against the Wildcats, who escaped with a 46-43 win in a D-II semifinal at the University of Dayton Arena.
“You want to lose a game like that rather than getting blown out by 20,” Carroll coach Cecilia Grosselin said.
Neither team was going to win by 20 the way they played defense. The Patriots (20-5) held Napoleon (25-1) to just 15 of 43 from the field (34.9) percent, while the Wildcats forced Carroll into 14 turnovers including four big ones during the decisive fourth quarter.
“This game was a defensive battle,”Grosselin said. “Napoleon is a great team. We knew they were going to be a good team defensively. Sometimes you just get caught up in the moment. Turnovers happen.”
The Wildcats converted those Carroll turnovers into 14 points. Carroll had six points off five Napoleon turnovers. That was the difference.
“Offensively what hurt us was not getting into our rhythm,” Grosselin said. (Turnovers) definitely affected our flow.”
The stars came out for both schools. Carroll’s Sarah Ochs led all scorers with 18 points, while Lickliter added 11 and Leraas 10. Taylor Strock and Emma Pedroza each had 13 for Napoleon, which is in its first girls basketball state championship game.
That appearance was in doubt until the final shot.
The Patriots led, 36-33, after Leraas made a layup in the lane with 6:47 left. Napoleon grabbed an offensive rebound at the other end and converted it into a pair of free throws from Taylor Strock to start an 11-0 run. All four Carroll turnovers came during that run as Napoleon built a 44-36 lead with 2:03 left. Carroll also had a shot blocked and missed a three-pointer during that run.
“We had a lot of shots that just didn’t fall,” Grosselin said. “A lot of opportunities that didn’t go our way. Typically we’re a pretty strong second-half team. It wasn’t due to lack of effort.”
The Patriots then did what they have done most of the tournament. They came back with their defense effort.
Ochs made a layup with 1:48 left and then the Patriots came up with a block and a steal while the Wildcats missed the front end of a one-and-one. Takierra Robinson grabbed an offensive rebound and made a pair of free throws after being fouled to cut the score to 44-40 with 43 seconds left.
Strock made two free throws with 25 seconds left, but Ochs drained a three-pointer with 11 seconds to make it 46-43. Napoleon’s Caely Ressler was fouled and missed the first of a one-and-one setting up the final shot.
“I think they played one heck of a game,” Napoleon coach Corey Kreinbrink said. “They’re so good at making winning basketball plays. You don’t make it to state three years in a row. They play so hard.”
Napoleon had the lead after each quarter but neither team was able to pull away. There were five lead changes and three ties and the biggest lead — eight — didn’t come until the 2:03 mark of the fourth.
Carroll has six seniors including Leraas, Lickliter, Robinson, Sydney Franklin, Donna Lawhorn, and Breigh VanMeter. Leaving the Carroll family is what really hurt Lickliter the most.
”I think we all knew, win or lose … we had our whole community supporting us,” she said. “It’s not even I’m upset about losing. It’s just sad I have to leave that.”
Immediately after the game, Ochs ran over to the Napoleon coach and told him to win the whole thing for the teams who made it last year and couldn’t play. Napoleon was among them.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Ochs said when asked why she did that. “The both of us got this taken away from us. If we can’t do it, I would want them.”
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.