The Delta girls basketball team is bound for its first district championship game in program history after holding off Ottawa Hills in a 53-52 thriller Thursday night. Can the Panthers defy the past again?
A postseason ride Delta coach Ryan Ripke called "awesome" will continue Saturday against powerhouse Archbold, which took down Evergreen 55-40 in the second game of a Division III district semifinal doubleheader at Anthony Wayne.
"We know we lost to Archbold and Evergreen in the regular season, so we're going to have come out and play harder," Delta junior guard Brigan Wymer said. "One of these times we're going to get a win against them, and we think this will be the time."
For one night, with Wymer and friends, it all seemed possible.
Wymer scored a game-high 23 points and Morgan Mattimore and Abbie Harris each added 10 to give a clutch Delta team just enough.
Despite the Panthers (15-9) making 11 of their final 15 free throws in the fourth quarter as Ottawa Hills played catch-up, it was not until a wild final sequence that they could celebrate.
Olivia VanSlooten scored inside with 14 seconds left to cut Delta’s lead to 53-50, and after it took 10 seconds for Ottawa Hills to foul on the ensuing possession, the Green Bears had a final chance. The Panthers missed a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining, setting up a heave down court that eventually found Abigale Lyon in the paint, who put in a window-dressing basket as the buzzer sounded.
"You've either got to get a 3 or try to draw contact," Ottawa Hills coach Sean Mercer said. "Abby tried her best to get into the girl a little bit. They didn't call it. But the games are won or lost long before that. You've got to give it up to [Delta]."
It was a fitting finish for a game that was tight wire to wire. Led by VanSlooten and Michelle Healy, who had 14 and 13 points, respectively, the Green Bears led 8-6 after a listless first quarter and soon built their lead to as many as six points.
Trailing 18-12 midway through the second quarter, the Panthers’ shots began to fall. Abbie Harris and Wymer hit 3s on back-to-back possessions to tie the game and Delta took a 23-22 lead into halftime.
It would not trail again, despite a ceaseless fight from Ottawa Hills. Baskets by Healy tied the game at 40 and 44 before the Panthers went ahead for good on a free throw by Wymer.
"About midway through the second quarter, we started making out shots," Ripke said. "But by that time Ottawa Hills had gained a lot of confidence and they knew they could play with us. I was really relieved going into the half up by one and there in the third quarter we really got our offense going."
Ottawa Hills finished the season 19-5. The Green Bears will return all but two seniors — Lyon and Gabriele Guilliod.
Archbold, meanwhile, turned a three-point halftime lead into a runaway with an 18-8 run in the third quarter. Cassidy Wyse led the fourth-ranked and Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Blue Streaks (22-2) with 22 points while Cassidy Williams and Jesse Fidler each added 10.
Haili Mossing had 18 points to lead the Vikings (19-5). Eden Eisel added 11. Archbold and Delta will tip at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"It’s a NWOAL battle," Blue Streaks coach Brian Ziegler said. "Each team knows the other. It’s going to come down to who executes."