Alter senior Braxtin Miller burned Tippecanoe one more time, and the Knights’ quest for a third straight title continued.
Springfield – It’s safe to say the Tippecanoe Lady Red Devils are sick and tired of the Archbishop Alter Lady Knights.
Heading into Tuesday night’s regional semifinals at Springfield High School, the Knights had ended the Red Devils season three times in the last nine years in the regional finals. Not only did those losses deny Tipp a trip to the Final Four in Columbus, two of them, in 2009 and 2015, ended Tipp dreams of a perfect season.
The Knights made it 4 for 4, but this time had to fight their way to a 50-41 win over the never-say-die Red Devils.
“Coming into the game, not many people gave us a chance,” said a proud Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman. “The girls believed, the coaches believed, and we had our chances. We just had a couple of possessions where we didn’t quite finish the play or had a breakdown defensively.”
Leading 12-9 after a quarter, Alter opened the second quarter with a 14-2 run to open a 26-11 lead. Knights’ senior Braxtin Miller, who was a key figure in Alter’s back to back title runs the past two seasons, made three threes during the run, forcing a Tippecanoe timeout.
“We just told the kids to keep playing,” Holderman remembered. “We had to buckle down on defense and take care of the ball. We had a nice run to get back into it.”
The Red Devils, who were plagued by nine first half turnovers, settled down, and narrowed the lead to 29-20 with 30 seconds left in the half. That as it turned out, was too much time, as the Knights’ Libby Bazelak found herself open at the top of the circle. Her three just beat the halftime buzzer to give the Knights a 32-20 lead at the break.
“That was a huge three-pointer at the end of the half,” Holderman said. “That happened a couple of times where we played solid defense for 25 seconds or so, then let up for a second or two. Good teams take advantage of that and that’s what they did.”
Alter scored the first four points of the third quarter to bump the lead to 36-20, its largest of the night. Instead of folding, as many in the crowd expected, the Red Devils came roaring back.
Allison Mader scored 6 points and Brook Aselage added 5 during a 17-7 run. Taylor Prall, the Red Devils only senior, buried a three from the right corner, and Tipp was within 43-37.
The Knights are two-time defending state champions for a reason, and when challenged, they responded. Emily Long and Bazelak scored on Alter’s next two possessions, and the Red Devils never got closer than 8 in the final minutes.
“We could have given up when we were down by 16,” Holderman explained. “It was just a fantastic effort by our kids. Most of them had never played in a game this big before. It’s a great learning experience for us and a building block for next year. We came up short on the scoreboard tonight, but I am very proud of the effort of our girls.”
Mader, a junior and Aselage, a sophomore, led the Red Devils with 17 and 10 points respectively. Prall finished her career with 6 points.
Miller led all scorers with 26 points for the Knights, including 5 treys. Bazelak finished with 11 as the Knights improved to 25-2.
Tipp was 16 of 35 from the floor for 46%, compared to 20 of 43 for Alter, 47%. The Knights were 7 of 14 from the arc for 50%, while the Red Devils were 5 of 13 for 38%. Neither team did much at the line; 4 of 9 for Tipp and 3 of 7 for Alter.
The Red Devils out-rebounded the Knights 22-18, but had 15 turnovers to the Knights’ 11.
Holderman had nothing but praise for the Knights.
“They are a very solid team and a great program. Their co-coach, Kendall Peck was my college roommate. We talk a lot, but we haven’t for the past couple of days. They play the game the right way and have some very talented players.”
Tipp finished the season 23-4 and loses just one senior, but Holderman said that senior will be missed.
“Taylor Prall is a special kid,” her coach praised. “She didn’t play her sophomore year, but came back out when I got the job last season. To be long, lanky and athletic, she has been a tremendous part of this program. A great leader, and hopefully our juniors have seen that and will take that into next season.”
Holderman said the Red Devils had much to be proud of.
“I would have never guessed that we would have had the season we did after starting the season with so much inexperience. They just continued to work hard and play together and help each other. It’s a great program with a great tradition. This was a game that swung on a couple of possessions, We make a couple more shots, get a couple more stops, and we may have had another outcome. I told the girls to hold their heads high and be proud of what they accomplished.”