Delta coach Ryan Ripke and his Panthers must have felt like a cat with nine lives and eight of them had slipped away with the ninth on life support.
Just when Woodmore was ready to pull the life support system, Abby Freeman and Hayley Callahan brought Delta back to life in the last two minutes to force overtime, then Freeman pulled the Panthers from the grave with a go ahead three pointer that gave Delta the lead for good in a 55-50 Division III sectional final win Thursday.
It was Delta’s fifth sectional title, all under the tutelage of Ripke.
“The last quarter of the season, the last third of the season, we’ve been talking about just playing with heart,” Ripke said. “We talked about playing with the will to win. The passion for the game and that’s what we did tonight you could just tell. It was all heart. It was all heart.”
Maddie Mattimore’s opening drive and Freeman’s first triple of the night gave Delta an early first minute 5-0 lead.
But from there, for the next 10 minutes, it was all Woodmore.
Two Kate Barbee hoops along with triples from Hayley Freund, Nora LaMunyon and Katie Bruegger at the buzzer gave the Widlcats a 15-10 lead.
The Wildcat lead grew to 24-14 on do-everything guard Lily Rothert’s side-step and scoop-and-score with 5:40 to go in the half.
Sara Sintobin’s two free throws, Callahan’s score inside and Mattimore’s steal-and-score scuttled that lead to 24-20 but Rothert’s breakaway bucket put Woodmore up 26-20 at the half.
Rothert’s drive put Woodmore up 31-23 with 6:19 left in the third but Mattimore accounted for all eight Delta points in a rally that got the Panthers within a deuce heading into the fourth.
The junior guard found Emily Clifton under the hoop for a pair, then scored on a step to the rim, off an out-of-bounds play, then on a step back jumper at the buzzer to make it 33-31.
Again Rothert led a Woodmore charge with a steal and score, a dish to LaMunyon for a three-pointer, then a baseline jumper with 3:33 left to put Woodmore up 44-37.
One last time Delta rallied.
Clifton hit a pair of free throws, then Mattimore found Freeman on a back cut with 2:29 on the clock to slice the Woodmore lead to 44-41.
After one of eight Woodmore turnovers in the fourth quarter, Callahan stuck back a Delta miss to get the Panthers within one at 44-43 with 1:35 to go.
Another Wildcat turnover gave Delta a chance for the lead and Freeman made it count with a drive along with an and-one with 1:31 on the clock to put the Panthers up 46-44.
“There were so many plays and everybody contributed,” said Ripke. “Sara Sintobin gave us a couple good minutes in the first half, Erin Mazurowski was up and down all night off the bench, Grace Sonick was the same. You don’t win a game like that unless you get a complete team effort.”
Rothert’s pair from the line tied the game and after back-to-back turnovers, Delta had a chance to win in regulation but Freeman’s triple hit the front rim to force overtime.
Makenzie Hoffman’s post move put Woodmore up starting the overtime but Mattimore’s drive 11 seconds later tied it.
After Woodmore misfired, the Panthers came down court and ran the same series the Freeman missed at the end of regulation. This time, however, the sophomore guard dropped the big one on Woodmore, giving the Panthers a 51-48 lead with 1:50 to go.
“To be honest that was just our girls making a play,” said Ripke. “The three wasn’t by design, that was just our girls making a play. I wish I could take credit for that one but I can’t.”
Another Woodmore miss, a Mary Miller rebound and a foul put the 5’9” senior at the line with a chance to extend the lead and she made good hitting both ends to make it 53-48 with 46 ticks left.
A free throw each from Mattimore and Clifton put the Panthers up an insurmountable three possessions with a short time left, making Barbee’s rebound hoop only a shot that got Woodmore close at the end.
Delta shot 12 for 22 after halftime to climb back in the game along with causing 12 turnovers after the intermission.
Mattimore had 21 points and Freeman 13 to lead the Panthers who will now play Evergreen in a district semifinal at Lake this Thursday.
The district is an All-NWOAL event as Delta, Evergreen, Swanton and Archbold all beat Northern Buckeye Conference teams to get there.
Reach Joe Blystone at email@example.com