“We told them it’s going to be a tough environment to play in,” Grosselin said. “Roger Bacon is a good, good team, and it’s going to be packed. You must be composed.”
The Patriots were composed enough to keep the lead in the final minutes by making enough free throws and not giving the Spartans any second shots. The final horn signaled a 41-38 Carroll victory and a trip back to state where the Patriots finished as runner-up last year.
“It was just a lot of teamwork and working together,” said sophomore guard Sarah Ochs. “Coach [Mike] Austria and Coach G really harped on how there were going to be plenty of ups and downs and how we had to stay together.”
The Patriots (23-5), who also reached state in 2011, will play at Ohio State’s St. John Arena at 1 p.m. Thursday against Beloit West Branch, which will be making its fourth state appearance and first since 2015.
“It’s amazing,” Ochs said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to go to state two straight years.”
The Patriots entered this year minus one starter from 2019 — leading scorer Liz Bush. Ochs, a sophomore, stepped into the lineup and was an example Friday of what the Patriots say is their greatest offensive strength. Ochs, who is the team’s second-leading scorer at 10 points a game, scored 20 points and was the only Patriot in double figures. In the regional semifinal, center Julia Keller scored 21 and Allie Stefanek scored 18. Other nights it might be three or four scoring 10 to 15 points. Whatever the combination, the Patriots usually win.
“Us five starters you never know which one will be the leading scorer that night,” said Keller, the team’s leading scorer at 13 game. “We all have our strengths, and we know when one person can’t step up someone else does. And that’s why our team’s so great.”
Returning to state was a legitimate goal, but a season-opening loss and four January losses, including an overtime loss at Bacon (20-9), made the Patriots appear vulnerable despite a No. 1 seed. The resiliency the Patriots showed on Friday when Bacon made a comeback was similar to how they have rallied since January to win nine straight.
“We’re just so incredibly blessed to have great girls on the team, great coaching staff and we’re excited to go back to state,” Grosselin said. “Every year that’s your goal. We didn’t start off so great, we had a few losses and now I feel like we’re really playing well.”
This is Keller, Stefanek and Jillian Roberts’ last chance to win state. Keller said the plan was improvement at every step to get to Friday night’s showdown.
“We knew that it was going to lead to this moment,” she said. “And we know now that we’re here it’s just going to be working harder, knowing that we can do it, we can go back there. And we’re just going to take it home this time.”