Too many turnovers, poor shooting from everywhere, and a very good Alter Knights team denied Tippecanoe a regional title for the second straight year.Springfield – It was billed as a rematch of last year’s regional title game.Unfortunately for the Tippecanoe Lady Red Devils, the game began as a re-PLAY last year’s match-up.
A year ago, unbeaten Alter, on its way to a second state title, jumped out to a 13-0 lead and cruised to a 64-33 win, the Red Devils only loss of the season.Friday night, the Knights again got the early jump, and although the Red Devils battled gamely for 32 minutes, Alter claimed a 54-39 win and a third consecutive trip to the state final four in Division II next week in Columbus.Hayley Combs scored 13 of her game high 19 points in the first half and Braxtin Miller scored 13 of her 16 after intermission as the Knights improved to 26-2.“Our kids played with a lot of heart,” said first year Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman outside a tearful Red Devil locker-room. “I told the kids they could hold their heads high. Alter is a top-notch squad, and with a basket here, and a free throw there, maybe it’s a different game. We just couldn’t get over the hump. The better team won tonight.”“This never gets old,” said Alter co-coach Kendal Peck as he watched the Knights cut down the net. “When I got here 17 years ago, we wanted to play in this game once. Now we have been here 8 times and won 7 of them. It’s pretty remarkable.”Tipps first three possessions resulted in turnovers as Alter took an 11-4 lead. By quarters end, the Red Devils had 7 turnovers and trailed 18-9.
The Red Devils have shown grit and determination all season, and those qualities surfaced in the second quarter. Sammie Rowland hit a pair of threes, and Allison Mader and Mikenna Varvel added one each as the Red Devils clawed their way back into the game. When Tippecanoe got a stop to end the half, the huge Tippecanoe crowd was on its feet as the Red Devils trailed just 28-21.The Red Devils had erased a 17 point deficit in the sectional final against Carroll, and trailed by 12 in the second half against Mariemont in the District final. Could they rally one more time against the talented and experienced Knights?Uh, no.Alter held Tippecanoe scoreless for the first 4:44 of the third quarter, going on an 11-0 run to open the half. By the time the Red Devils finally scored, it was 39-22 and the upset train had left the station.“We were ready to play, and got off to a great start,” explained Peck. “We got a little tired in the second quarter and they hit some shots. We were able to re-group at halftime, and had a great start to the third quarter.”During the drought, Tipp went 0-5 from the floor, 0-3 at the line and committed 4 turnovers. Again, there was no quit in the Devils, but they never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“We just couldn’t find the hole in the third quarter,” lamented Holderman. “We just missed to many open layups. But credit Alter. They increased their pressure and it took its toll there. We had a pretty good game plan, but we just didn’t hit shots. The third quarter dug us a hole we couldn’t get out of.”Peck praised Combs, his 6 foot senior post player.“She’s had a great regional. She scored 16 against Bellbrook and guarded their best player, then had 19 tonight. We didn’t know if she would be able to shoot because her legs were really bothering her after the other night, but she did a great job.”Combs, a 6-0 senior, was understandably excited about a third straight trip to the final four.“It feels amazing to go back a third straight year. We have been working all year to get to this point. Our teamwork was good last year but its been better this year. We knew it had to be because we lost a lot of seniors last year and a lot of people underestimated us this year.”As for the sore legs?“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about it,” Combs said with a laugh. “Once the game started, the adrenaline kicked in and all the pain went away.”Instead, it was the Red Devils who were left hurting.The Red Devils simply didn’t shoot well from anywhere. Tipp was 13 of 39 from the floor for 33%, 5 of 16 on threes for 31%, including 0-7 in the second half, and 8 of 16 from the line for 50%.Alter, meanwhile, was 22 of 53 for 42% from the floor, 6 of 16 behind the arc for 38% and 4 of 8 from the line. The Knights had a 31-27 edge on the boards, including 13-7 on the offensive glass, and committed 10 turnovers to Tipps 15.“To get back to this level two years in a row is a major accomplishment for these girls,” Holderman acknowledged. “We have had a ton of adversity in this program the past two seasons, then Carly (Clodfelter, the leading returning scorer from last season) goes down (with a season-ending knee injury). But the kids just continued to grow all season, and it wasn’t one person doing a lot, but all of them doing a little. I told them that I have no worries about them later in life because they will do what they have to do to be successful.”Tippecanoe loses 7 seniors who have been the backbone of a 49-7 run the past two seasons.“What we will miss most about the seniors is their work ethic,” Holderman praised. “The good thing is that the underclassmen saw how the seniors led by example. How to practice every day. They didn’t just talk about it, they worked hard every day. Their legacy is that they left everything they had on the court every time they went out there.”For the Knights, who are now 56-2 the past two seasons, it will be another busy week.“We will enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, then we’ll get the kids together on Sunday,” explained Peck. “Our kids are sore and tired right now, so we need ice bags and rest. We’ve been through it before. There will be more media, cameras at practice this week, but once the game starts, it’s 5 on 5 on a 94-foot court. Experience is a great thing and I think we’ll be able to handle it.”