It was a night in Fayette, Ohio that had all the atmosphere of a regional tournament game rather than a regular season non-league contest between two teams that were a combined 28-2 on the season.
It was also a night in which the Eagles’ Taylor Griffiths had a performance one might see on ESPN Classic, hitting 9 out of 10 three-point attempts. Fayette, who was 15-1 heading into the game, needed every one of them as after the Eagles roared out to a huge lead, they had to hold off a late Evergreen rally to take a 60-59 triumph over the previously 13-1 Vikings.
“You just have to tip your cap to Taylor,” exclaimed Eagle coach Scoop Miller. “And plus our kids to recognize that she had the hot hand and got her the ball, but man, what a phenomenal performance, it was almost a surprise after a while when she did miss one.”
Griffiths opened with her first triple 32 seconds into the game that Evergreen’s Alyssa Noe answered eight seconds later, but the 5’11” Eagle senior then had a salvo of three straight bombs, along with another by Hannah Machacek to race out to a 15-3 lead with 4:36 left in the first.
Her fifth triple of the first quarter gave Fayette their biggest lead, 24-10, as the Eagles hit seven first stanza three-balls and shot 8 of 10 from the floor.
“That first quarter they just came out and blitzkrieged us,” said Viking coach John Langenderfer. “They were hitting them from three, four feet behind the line.”
Haili Mossing got the Vikings within 10 at the end of the first with an up and under move and a score inside to start a 9-0 run that included Hannah Herr’s triple and Noe’s baseline drive that sliced the Eagle lead to 24-19 with 6:39 left in the half.
Griffiths’ sixth triple boosted Fayette up eight, but Herr answered with another three-pointer before the teams traded hoops the rest of the half as the Eagles went into the half with a 33-27 lead.
Griffiths opened the third with yet another triple from way out on the left wing and Kaela Seiler scored on a drive to again boost Fayette’s lead to double digits, 38-27.
With the Eagles still holding an 11-point lead at 40-29 with 5:35 to go, the Vikings’ Haili Mossing began to sizzle from the floor.
The 5’8” senior scored on a dump inside from Eden Eisel, then nailed a triple from the corner to slice the Fayette lead back to six, 40-34.
Griffiths again tripled, but Mossing drove for a score and Noe tripled after a Rylee Ruger basket to keep the lead at six at 45-39 before Griffith tripled again, this time from Steph Curry range to keep Evergreen at bay.
“She’s quite a player,” Langenderfer said of Griffiths. “Tonight she had a showcase game. We’d be in her face and she would step back even farther and hit one.”
Fayette still led 55-46 with 6:16 left after Seiler forearmed her way to a basket and Ruger scored on a fourth chance try on the offensive glass, when the Vikings mounted one last surge.
Eisel’s triple chopped the lead to six and Herr split a pair from the foul line to take it to five when Griffiths scored her only points of the fourth on a pair of free throws.
Mossing and Ruger traded baskets as the Eagle lead remained at 59-52 at the 2:40 mark.
Faster than a jackrabbit, Noe went coast-to-coast for a score and then after a Fayette miss at the foul line, Mossing curled to the rim for a basket that got the Vikes within a single possession at 59-56 with 2:16 on the clock.
After running the clock, Seiler could only manage to split a pair from the foul line and Eisel knocked home a triple to slice the Fayette lead to a single digit but the Vikings couldn’t catch up to foul as Fayette ran out the clock.
“We just got ourselves into a hole in the first quarter that we really never got ourselves out of,” explained Langenderfer.
Afterward Miller gave credit to his team for handling a Viking pressure defense that has continually forced 20 to 25 turnovers a game. The Eagles only committed 10.
“The kids did a good job. Evergreen can press you. They have quickness, they have some length and their kids are very aggressive attacking the ball. That was key because we needed every possession we got. What a hard fought game by both teams. What an exciting game to watch.”
Both coaches echoed those sentiments in post-game.
“It was a great environment tonight, I was happy for the kids. They have worked very hard to get where they have and to have a team with the quality of Evergreen come in here, yes I thought the fans got a real treat tonight,” said Miller.
“It was a great game,” stated Langenderfer. “They just shot it a little better and made more threes than we did (Fayette hit 11 from outside and Evergreen 10) and that was probably the difference in the game, and I give my kids credit because they are big! Alyssa Noe going in there at 5’4” and battling with 5’11” and 6’2” girls, we battled. We just have to make sure we don’t let one loss turn into two.”
For the game Ruger scored 11 and Alexis Fruchey 10 to back Griffiths. Mossing had a game high of 23 for Evergreen while Noe had 15 and Eisel 12.
Evergreen was guilty of just six turnovers to the Eagles 10.
Evergreen actually outshot the Eagles from the floor in hitting 47 percent compared to 44 for Fayette, but the Eagles dominance on the boards (34-21) led to a dozen second chance points for the Eagles.
The Vikings look to remain unbeaten in the NWOAL as they travel to Bryan tomorrow evening.
Fayette also is on the road tomorrow, playing at North Central.
Joe Blystone can be reached at [email protected]