DAYTON — With eight seconds remaining and their team up five points, Rylee Sagester and Torie Richards embraced at the opposite free throw line.
With an insurmountable lead, the Tri-Village High School seniors couldn’t stop smiling. They knew they had just accomplished their ultimate goal — winning a state championship.
“At that point, me and Torie were already headed back to New Madison to celebrate,” Sagester said.
The top-ranked Patriots beat Toledo Christian 52-50 to claim their first Division IV girls basketball state championship in school history, in front of 2,990 fans on Saturday afternoon at University of Dayton Arena.
The state championship is the culmination of years of hard work for the Tri-Village girls basketball program, Patriots coach Brad Gray said.
“This has been a long, hard journey for this group and the Tri-Village Lady Patriots as a whole,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of heartbreak over the last 10 to 12 years. (The seniors) will be the first to tell you that we’ve had some other teams that could’ve been up here and we let it slip through our fingers. That’s been the focus of this group. (The seniors) really led us to this. It took three years of heartbreak, but it built for this moment.”
Sagester scored 20 points, hitting three 3-pointers, while senior Morgan Hunt scored 11 points, freshman Kennedi Hager had 10 points and Richards added nine points as the Patriots finished the season a perfect 30-0.
“We finished with a zero in the loss column, but it’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows for this team,” Gray said. “They’ve always responded. The schedule was a brutal schedule, but I think it prepared us for this moment.”
Toledo Christian junior Mackenzie Royal-Davis had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and junior Kendall Braden added 12 points as the Eagles finished their season 23-6.
The score was tied at 11 after one quarter, but the Patriots went on a 9-0 run to end the half, including seven straight points from Sagester to give Tri-Village a 26-19 halftime lead.
Tri-Village led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but the Eagles fought back to cut the lead to 44-42 on a bucket by Braden with about six minutes remaining.
With 2:30 remaining and a two-point lead, Hunt completed an old-fashioned 3-point play to push the Tri-Village lead to 47-42.
“I’m pretty good in the post and I tried to use that to our advantage when I was open and take it to the hole,” Hunt said. “If it didn’t go in, I was going to try to rebound it and put it back in, but it went in and I hit the free throw. It was really exciting.”
Richards followed with a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Patriots a 50-42 advantage with less than two minutes remaining.
“When they double down on (Hunt), I’m expecting her to get it to me and kick it out because she’s not selfish,” Richards said. “If she kicked it out, I was going to shoot it. If I’m open, I’m not going to be hesitant in the state final. … I thought it was good when I let it go and I don’t say that a lot. I’m not that confident of a shooter, but I was feeling good this game.”
The Eagles cut the lead to five points on a 3-pointer by Macey Wensink with 1:19 remaining.
Sagester followed with two free throws to give Tri-Village a 52-45 lead.
Royal-Davis hit a bucket with 14.5 seconds left to make it 52-47 with 14.5 seconds remaining.
With eight seconds remaining, Hunt was fouled. Once they realized Toledo Christian didn’t have anymore timeouts, the Patriots were ready to celebrate, Richards said.
“We knew we had won,” she said. “We were already hugging. We were celebrating.”
Hunt missed the front end of a one-and-one and Braden hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired to make the final score 52-50.
Sagester, the Ohio Ms. Basketball runner-up, hit three 3-pointers to surpass 400 for her career, adding to her unofficial state record for career 3-pointers. With 20 points, the senior finished her career with 2,001 points. She credited her teammates for helping along the way, as well as many hours of hard work with her teammates, especially Richards and Hunt.
“It paid off,” Sagester said. “We’re state champs, baby.”
The victory was bittersweet because it was the last time the seniors — who began playing together in elementary school — would take the floor together, said Richards, holding back tears in the postgame press conference.
“It’s the best way to go out,” Richards said.
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