DUBLIN – Holding a lead late in a basketball game can be tricky if a team turns the ball over, doesn’t make foul shots and key players foul out.
It can be difficult if even one of those things happen. But all three happened to the Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team Wednesday night.
Because of that, the Patriots watched a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter disappear and they actually trailed before Trinity Ramos found Abby Erickson for a layup with less than a minute left.
Ramos went 4-for-4 at the foul line in the final 19 seconds to help Liberty secure a 53-48 win over Hilliard Davidson in a Division I district semifinal game at Dublin Jerome High School.
“Yeah, it was stressful,” Erickson said. “Sometimes you get caught up in the game and you get caught up in the crowd before you remember that you’re just playing basketball.”
Liberty coach Sam Krafty was feeling the stress after the game.
“Wow,” he said before gliding down the wall. “I’ve gotta sit down.”
Ramos, a freshman, led the Patriots with 11 points, five assists and three steals to go with four rebounds and Erickson added nine points and five rebounds.
“Just because I’m a freshman doesn’t mean that I can’t do it,” Ramos said. “I don’t know – I just love the game, so it doesn’t matter that I’m a freshman.”
She was hounded by a very quick Davidson defense and had her share of turnovers.
“Trinity was as solid as she could be,” Krafty said. “I think at times, we didn’t help her when they brought that pressure. She grew up a lot tonight. I’ve been telling her for about a month that her freshman season is over.”
Ramos kept her head to find Erickson for the go-ahead basket and made her free throws down the stretch.
“That was the first time people were screaming at me as I was shooting free throws,” Ramos said laughing. “Krafty told me over the summer that it was going to come to me at the end with free throws. So, I just practiced my free throws a lot, so I was ready for them.”
Gina Santangelo hit a 3-pointer off an Erickson feed to give the 10th-seeded Patriots (18-7) a 40-25 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats did what they have done all season long, though. They used their defense to dig themselves out.
“We are not an offensive powerhouse team – we are a defensive powerhouse team and I think that showed in the fourth quarter and really all game long,” Davidson coach Joy Taylor said. “It’s been what we’ve done all year. We’re going to play defense, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to get baskets when we can.”
Emily Simon had three steals and Sydney Peterson and Brianna O’Connor had a pair as well as Davidson forced 15 Liberty turnovers in the final period alone.
Simon (18 points) and Audrey Kaufman (nine) combined for 27 of Davidson’s first 30 points.
Simon finished with a game-high 25 points and added 10 rebounds, six steals, a pair of blocks and two assists to lead the ninth-seeded Wildcats (19-6), who beat Liberty 43-38 Jan. 22 in Powell.
Simon scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone with a pair of 3-pointers, a perfect 6-for-6 effort at the line and a basket.
Her offensive rebound led to a basket by Peterson to give the Wildcats the lead at 48-47 with 1:12 left.
“It was a heavy load for us,” Taylor said. “It took us some time, but taking the lead with a minute to go was pretty great. I wish it would have ended differently.”
Liberty by that point had lost Teegan Pifher, Kelly Levering and Gina Santangelo to fouls. Both teams were in the double bonus with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter as the teams combined for 33 fouls in the second half.
“The game plan was to keep everybody off the free throw line – (Davidson is) very good at drawing contact,” Krafty said. “The timeout before the fourth quarter I told them that we needed to stay disciplined, keep them off the free throw line and make them earn their points … and we came out and did the exact opposite.”
Pifher scored all of her nine points in the first half before getting into foul trouble, Levering led the Patriots’ effort on the boards with 12 rebounds and Santangelo hit three 3-pointers and finished with nine points.
The Patriots struggled from the line with just three makes in 11 attempts in the fourth quarter before Ramos’ key free throws.
Erickson made one of those free throws to finish off a 3-point play with 2:48 left to give Liberty a 47-40 lead after an O’Connor triple had pulled the Wildcats as close as they had been since the first quarter.
“Not to be self-deprecating, but I don’t make a lot of free throws,” Erickson said. “I was just proud of myself because I fully concentrated on that and did what I needed to do for my team.”
Pifher scored back-to-back baskets to give Liberty a 4-0 lead and Santangelo and Jessie Barna each knocked down 3s to give Liberty a seven-point lead at the end of the first – a lead they would maintain through the half.
Betsy Merritt hit a pair from deep and Ramos scored on a pair of drives, turning the second one into an and-one as Liberty pushed its lead to 37-22 at the end of the third.
Kaufman finished with nine points and Peterson and O’Connor added seven points apiece for Davidson. O’Connor had eight rebounds and five assists as well.
Liberty advances to Saturday morning’s district final against top-seeded Pickerington Central, which will tip-off at 11 a.m. in a rematch of a district final from last year won by the Tigers.