By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 5, 2009
The Hillsdale Academy Colts stole away the SCAA East title from Waldron several weeks ago, but on Wednesday the Spartans put a dagger in their foes’ season in euphoric fashion — but only after one last fateful bounce was overcome by the school that hasn’t won a girl’s basketball district crown since 1973.
Both teams turned the ball over 23 times and the Colts (15-6 overall) had a slight 45-42 edge on the boards, but a timely 3-pointer by a Waldron senior not known for her outside shot propelled the Spartans to a 59-57 overtime win in the district semifinals at Litchfield.
In the final game of her decorated career Colts senior guard Connaught Blood hit an off-balance 3-pointer with no time remaining on the clock in regulation to send the game to overtime, but Spartans senior star Ashley Jagielski buried the Academy with a long-range bomb of her own with 22 seconds left in overtime.
It may have been an unexpected finish to an unforgettable classic, but Jagielski’s range was something Waldron head coach Jeff Knowlan knew might come in handy down the stretch this season.
“She wasn’t shooting 3-pointers until a few weeks ago and I told her she needed to shoot some jump-shots because (defenders are) sagging one you and don’t want you drive,” he said. “So I’ve been really harping on her in practice to shoot them and she would tell me, ‘I can’t make them’ and I’d tell her you can’t make them if you don’t shoot them and I’m glad she shot that one.”
That shot erased Jagielski’s nine turnovers and countless lay-ups that she and her teammates missed throughout the evening as they failed to put the Colts away. As Knowlan said, his girl’s panicked with the lead several times, but he assured them they could pull it out with relentless defense and good shot selection.
“It feels great. Did you see the girl’s faces?” he said. “I’ve been telling them in practice all week that it’s just effort, I know we had some injuries and were hurt and my daughter had to come out (tonight) and have her ankled taped over here in the middle of the third quarter…it was just effort and hustle and making good shots.”
The Spartans (18-4) hit a host of clutch free-throws down the stretch and Abbe Wines finished with 21 points and 19 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. Jagielski put in 13 points to go with seven assists, 12 boards and four steals and MacKenzie Price added eight points.
The Colts had to rely more than ever on Blood, when sophomore forward Heather Lantis went out for several minutes in the second quarter and had to play the rest of the game with a taped up hand, but Blood and her youthful teammates gave it everything they had.
“We fought valiantly. When you lose your second best player and she’s immobile and hanging tough and yet we were on the edge and just couldn’t make it happen….I’m very proud and I’m sad this season is ending because I’ve enjoyed them so much and for what this young has accomplished, it’s been amazing,” Colts head coach Jeff Hubbard said.
Blood finished with a game-high 31 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer which ricocheted off the far side of the rim and in with triple-zeros showing. Along side her were two freshmen and three sophomores playing major minutes, something Knowlan said factored into the end result because they struggled to hit shots in the second half.
Blood finishes her career as the Colts all-time leading scorer and with her guidance Academy teams have gone 76-14 over the past four years.
Hubbard said he doesn’t even want to think about life after Blood — at least not right now.
“A few weeks ago, I always go in before the game and write the starters on the board and I wrote her name down and I realized it was one of the last times I would get to do that — and I panicked,” he said. “She’s helped turn our program around and make us a recognizable program in the area and the state. I won’t even know what to do at the start of practice next year without her, but she’s got a bright future ahead of her.”
Although Lantis scored just one more basket after being injured, she tallied 17 rebounds to go with her four points and Meg Ryan scored nine points, all on 3-pointers. Emily Pewe pitched in three points and 10 rebounds.
Hubbard said the future is brighter than ever with this group of girls and he’s already excited to start next season and see where the 2009 SCAA East champions can go.
As for Knowlan, he’s concerned about Friday’s district finals bout with Camden-Frontier, a team they split with in the regular season. One thing he’s certain of, thanks to what he saw Wednesday, is his team’s ability to handle pressure.
Knowlan said his girls easily could have froze up after Blood’s tying 3-pointer, but his leaders took charge.
“We could’ve folded, but the girls came over here and I heard Ashley, Kelsey and Abbe, our three captains tell the team we could do these, even before I said a word and I was so happy they all hung together,” he said.
“That’s huge, because we’re 18-4 now and we haven’t won a district game in I don’t know how many years and I’m proud of what they’ve done.”