Bellbrook plays the underdog role well. Almost too well for opponents.
A week after beating highly touted Tippecanoe in the regional finals, the Eagles couldn’t duplicate the feat Friday in a hard-fought 47-40 loss to Gilmour Academy in the Division II state semifinals at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Gilmour (25-3), the defending D-III state champion, is ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps D-II computer rankings.
Bellbrook (20-9) also made state in 2012 and 1976.
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“We were going to be pleased no matter what, but we wanted to get to the next game,” Bellbrook coach Jason Tincher said. “We also know these girls have taken us about as far we could go this year. We told the girls we had our last practice yesterday. We got to schedule our last practice. A lot of teams don’t get to do that.”
Not many teams stop Gilmour either.
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The Lancers, who beat Versailles in last year’s D-III final, were making their third straight trip to state. Their three losses this season came to Wayne (first game of year), Mason (D-I state semifinalist) and undefeated Wexford (Pa.), which is the No. 1 ranked team in Pennsylvania according to MaxPreps.
Bellbrook’s task was tall.
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The Eagles played a 2-3 zone to combat Gilmour’s 6-foot-2 senior and Michigan recruit Naz Hillmon, the co-D-III Ohio player of the year. Hillman still managed to score 11 points and pull down an OHSAA all-divisions semifinal record 19 rebounds. Her teammates hit just 12-of-43 shots.
Bellbrook, ahead 23-21 at halftime, led 34-33 with 5:32 to play in the fourth following two Olivia Greenhouse free throws. The Eagles then - with the backing of a vocal fan base - forced a 48-second possession by the Lancers, which ended in a key 3-point basket by Gilmour’s Annika Corcoran. The Lancers never trailed again.
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“That was a high-energy point in the game,” Tincher said. “Our girls were busting it defensively and our crowd was going crazy. We had them huffing and puffing a little at that time. That was a critical point of the game.”
Said Corcoran, who led all scorers with 19 points: “For us to be able to get some energy off that to fuel our defense was huge.”
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Senior Bekah Vine led Bellbrook with 11 points, while senior Cassidy Hofacker chipped in 10 (and five assists). Sophomore Kayla Paul had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Bellbrook shot 14-of-44 from the floor and committed 21 turnovers.
Gilmour made just 11-of-25 free throws and was 6-of-30 from 3.
The Eagles, 8-7 at one point this season, lost for just the second time in their last 14 games.
All three of Bellbrook’s trips to state have ended with a loss to private schools - Columbus Hartley (1976), Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown (2012) and Gilmour.
“They pushed us out of some things we normally do and it was problematic for us for a while,” Gilmour coach John Curran said. “We didn’t panic, we just kept pressing until we found something that worked. Thankfully we found that before the end of the game.”
Said Tincher: “One of the greatest memories I have as a coach is this group, because I know where we came from. It wasn’t all the wins at the end of the year, it was all the losses we had early that we were able to rebound from. Game 15 of the season we were answering some tough questions.
“What the girls did after that is truly remarkable.”
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