Sandusky finishes off Columbian in OT

Columbian saw the finish line, but just couldn’t reach it.

Four quarters couldn’t settle it between Columbian and Sandusky, but in the extra period, Sandusky finished off the Tornadoes, 63-55.

For Columbian coach Katie Fazekas, the problem was finishing.

“Tough one, kids worked hard. You hate losing the ones where you feel they do everything right but put the ball in the hole, because you don’t have a whole lot to tell them,” she said. “We had us down for 8 of 27 in the paint. Just got to finish. They’re to the point now, we say ‘Everything but’. They’re doing everything but the finish. Which is an improvement. We said we wanted to keep moving forward; I think they’re moving forward. I think they are improving. They’re working their tails off. We just got to finish.”

“I thought it was a tough game,” Sandusky coach Richard Koonce said. “I thought Tiffin came out and played an excellent game. I think the coach did a really nice job and the girls sold out for their coach. And that’s all we can ask for as coaches. As far as my ladies, I was proud of them for hanging in there.”

After leading nearly all afternoon, Sandusky saw a seven-point lead turn into a one-point deficit in the span of about 40 seconds crossing over the third and fourth quarters.

Down seven, Columbian’s Dianicia Whitman sunk a basket with 30 left in the third quarter, then Valesha Province hit a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer to bring the Tornadoes within 37-35 going to the fourth. On the first possession of the final quarter, Province hit another trifecta to give her team its first lead since the game was 9-7 in the first quarter.

“She’s clutch,” Fazekas said of Province, who scored a game-high 27 points while pulling down 12 rebounds. “She’s hit some big time shots and some big time times for us. Sometimes coaching her, you take it for granted. ‘Hey, I need you to go make a step back 3 over that girl.’ Then she goes out and does it. You can’t take it for granted. Sometimes you got to step back. She has some wow factors once in a while. Tonight she had a couple of those wow factors.”

A free throw by Whitman and basket by Laura Heminger lifted Columbian to a four-point lead, but Sandusky battled back. A steal and layup by Ta’Sharra Jeffries tied the game at 41 with 5:08 to go.

“That says that they’re resilient,” Koonce said. “Says that they got the stuff that champions are made of. All they have to do is believe. That’s my motto; that’s what I’ve been telling them all season. ‘Look, ladies, I can believe anything I want to about you. But you have to believe more than what I believe about you. If you believe it and then you’re are willing to put in the work that the coaching staff and I have designed for you, then you’ll be winners.'”

Sandusky’s defense was a key factor during the fourth quarter as it forced 10 Columbian turnovers.

“Turnovers. Untimely turnovers,” Fazekas said. “They put a couple traps on. It’s coming. It’s getting better, but you still see times of panic when they put pressure on. We got to limit those.”

The teams spent the next few minutes going back and forth. Sandusky had a lead late, but Columbian’s Sidney Baker hit a jumper to tie the game at 50 with 1:14 left. That was quickly answered by a basket from Tenisha Hopkins, but Province hit a pair of foul shots to tie the game with 45 seconds left.

Each team had chances in the final minute, but neither could convert.

Sandusky grabbed the first lead of overtime on a putback by Aschelle Smith-Crager. Province came back on the other end by converting an and-1 play, but Sandusky took the lead back off another offensive rebound and basket, this time by Hopkins. Columbian didn’t score again.

“The rebounding was big,” Koonce said. “We had Tenisha Hopkins and Aschelle Smith-Crager, and some of the other girls stepping up rebounding. Deja Johnson stepped up big.

“The real surprise, though, really was Tenisha Hopkins. She’s really been playing JV basketball, but I tell her she’s a varsity player. But we got to match up the skill level with the mindset … . She stepped up big today. She’s just a sophomore. And everyone else stepped up too. I could go on about our starters. We just edged them based upon ‘How bad do you want it.’ That’s what we edged them on.”

Jeffries led Sandusky (6-6, 4-3 Northern Ohio League) with 15 points. Smith-Crager had 14, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime. She also pulled down 12 rebounds. Hopkins finished with 13, playing only two quarters because of her playing time in the JV game.

For Columbian (1-11, 0-6), Heminger backed up Province with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

But the rebounding in the extra period turned out to be the best defense as Sandusky claimed a 7-2 edge on the glass.

“That hurts. Boards are important,” Fazekas said. “We talk about winning the board battle and turnover battle. The fourth quarter extended, their rebounding, their athleticism really showed. Credit to them, they worked hard.”