By Michael Rich
Allison Raiff’s free throws with 3.2 seconds left completed the comeback for the Olentangy girls basketball team, ending district-rival Olentangy Liberty’s dream of a perfect season with a 60-58 win Saturday afternoon in Lewis Center.
“It’s a good win against a great team,” Olentangy coach John Feasel said. “We scraped and scratched and fought.”
“This was such an important game for all of us,” senior forward Emily Stephens said. “We all worked so hard together. The amazing thing about it is that none of us gave up. Everybody was dedicated to this game.”
Olentangy (11-3), which picked up its fifth straight win, used a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter to come off the mat, tie it and eventually take the lead.
“One of the things we have to get better at is executing at the end of games,” Liberty coach Sam Krafty said. “We’ve had leads that we have squandered a little bit.”
Freshman Olivia Margolies put back her own miss to tie the game 56-56. She sparked the run with five points, four rebounds and three blocks down the stretch.
“She did a nice job of cutting through the zone we were in for a little bit there in the fourth quarter,” Krafty said. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for (Olentangy) and what they do.”
“I can’t even imagine being a freshman on varsity, especially in this kind of game — it’s scary and she did amazing,” Stephens said. “She is one of the reasons we won this game — one of the biggest reasons.”
She finished one point shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds to lead Olentangy. Stephens led all scorers with 16 points for Olentangy and Raiff added 11.
“(Margolies) hustled tonight,” Feasel said. “She got some huge 50-50 balls, she blocked some huge shots — she did a great job. She’s going to get a lot better … she’s something else.”
Chelsea Moore’s short jumper on the right side gave Olentangy a 58-56 lead with 46.4 seconds remaining — its first lead since 5-4 in the first quarter. Moore finished with eight points.
Lauren Hofer tied it up again for Liberty with a layup on the next possession before Raiff’s go-ahead free throws.
Molly Delaney started the fourth quarter run with a three-pointer in the corner.
“We needed it,” Feasel said. “That was big. She got that mask off and she’s starting to shoot the ball better. She’s a sophomore — we’ve got a lot of young kids out there doing some stuff.”
Olentangy, which had struggled at the line to the tune of 3-for-12 in the first half, went 10-for-11 in the fourth quarter, including 6-for-7 during the 13-0 run, including a pair of free throws each by Delaney, Raiff and Moore. The Braves finished 18-for-30 at the foul line.
Liberty (13-1) used the three-pointer to build an early lead, hitting 10 of them for the game, which included seven in the first half.
“They’re good — they made a lot of threes tonight,” Feasel said. “They’re a good team.”
The Patriots used a 10-2 run to go up 19-9 at the end of the first. Alexa Fisher sparked the run with a three-pointer, followed by a steal and a layup on consecutive possessions.
Fisher finished with 13 points and eight assists, both team-highs for Liberty.
Olentangy pulled closer to start the second on baskets by Moore and Stephens, but Breanna Yashko hit back-to-back long threes to push Liberty’s lead to 13 — the largest lead of the game — midway through the second.
Olentangy came right back with an 8-0 run midway through the period. Stephens kept Olentangy close in the second with eight points before Kelly Meade hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to close it to 36-30 at the break.
“Emily Stephens was hitting some big shots, I’ll tell you,” Feasel said. “I like playing seniors. They’ve been through the battles. She’s capable of making those and she stood up and made the shots tonight. There’s a lot of girls that didn’t play (Saturday) because she was playing so well. When that happens, you ride the hot hand.”
Savitha Jayaraman opened the third with a three to spark an 8-1 run and the Patriots led 44-31. Jayaraman closed the third period scoring summary with her second three-pointer to give Liberty a 51-40 lead through three.
Hofer and Jayaraman each had 12 points for the Patriots. Jayaraman pulled down six boards. Yashko added 11 points.
The loss is only the third for Liberty in the past 41 games, spanning the last season and a half. The Patriots had beat Olentangy twice in a row, including 61-47 last season in Powell.
“What I told my kids in (the locker room) is that we haven’t lost much,” Krafty said. “It’s OK. We have to learn from it, we gotta execute better. We write on our boards before every game, ‘no regrets.’ They have nothing to feel bad about. It’s been a long week and I’m so proud of them.”
Liberty hosts Westerville Central in non-league play Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. Olentangy is off until Friday night when it hosts Big Walnut in OCC-Capital action at 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.