Bruce Hooley
Bruce Hooley

Bruce Hooley was sports editor of the Troy Daily News from 1983-86 and has covered Ohio State athletics for more than 25 years. Bruce was the OSU beat reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland from 1987-2005.  From 2005-2011 he hosted the afternoon show on  ESPN radio 1460 AM,  in Columbus, before taking on a similar ESPN talk position with WKNR, 850 AM, in Cleveland.  Most recently Hooley has served as the beat reporter for Ohio State football and basketball for Sports Illustrated.com.  The author of "That's Why I'm Here:  The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story, he returns for his second chapter as Buckeye beat reporter and columnist at large with Press Pros.

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Watterson freshman Sophie Ziel hit her team’s first two field goals of the game Saturday in the CCL championship, but it was her two free throws at the finish that preserved the title.

Columbus, OH – Outcomes in championship games often tip toward the team that best exerts or withstands pressure in whatever variety it’s applied.

Bishop Hartley exerted considerable force Saturday on Bishop Watterson in an urgent effort to wrest a share of the Central Catholic League championship from the Eagles, who’d taken round one between the rivals by 11 points on Jan. 13.

This time, at Hartley’s gym, a similar result beckoned early before the Hawks began applying a second-half backcourt trap that Watterson struggled to survive, nursing a 46-44 lead into the final seconds.

Having administered all the physical pressure it could, Hartley now opted for some psychological duress and thus sent 5-5 freshman Sophie Ziel to the free throw line for a one-and-one for 14.6 seconds remaining.

Freshman on the line…game in the balance…home fans screaming…Watterson’s lead all but gone – the heart rate of Watterson coach Sam Davis must have been soaring.

“Oh, not at all,” Davis said. “Sophie’s not really a freshman. At least, not any more. We’ve played 20 games, and she really works at the game. She’s a great shooter and probably our highest percentage free throw shooter, so when we’re running an inbounds play and the other team has six or seven fouls, we’re running plays to get her the ball. We don’t think of her as a freshman. We think of her as a really good player.”

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If they didn’t already, Davis and Ziel’s teammates can think of her as a really clutch player, because she calmly drilled both free throws without either shot brushing anything but nylon to preserve a 48-44 victory.

“I practice my free throws a lot so I can hopefully make them in that situation,” Ziel said. “We needed them, so I was glad to make them both.”

Watterson’s Alexa Machol drives upcourt against Hartley’s Lexi Cashwell late in the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ victory.

Puring that pair from the stripe competed Ziel’s 16-point performance, which included four three-point field goals, including a ruthless tie-breaker from the left corner with 2:26 to play.

Teammate Kenna Ryan hit a trio of triples to finish with 15 points, including a put-back of her own missed shot in transition with 42 seconds left that sent Watterson’s lead to 46-42.

“These games are always like that; they’re always battles,” Hartley coach Donald Dennis said. “Coming down the stretch, they hit some big baskets in that fourth quarter and we missed some opportunities at the line that I thought changed the momentum a bit.”

Hartley took its first lead, 34-32, with 5:36 to play when Bella Parker scored her only points on a pair from the line.

Be there when the cannon blasts to celebrate a Columbus Blue Jackets goal amid all the exciting National Hockey League action at Nationwide Arena.

Watterson denied Parker her typical three-point freedom, forcing the Hawks to look more often into the post and 6-3 junior Ella Brandewie.

The daughter of former Fort Loramie Redskin and Ohio State Buckeye Tom Brandewie, Ella sent Hartley’s lead to 41-38 with two shots from the line at 4:30.

Kiki McElrath scored 18 for Hartley.

Ryan tied it for Watterson with a triple from the wing, after which Parker missed the front of a one-and-one at 2:36 to set the stage for Ziel’s go-ahead three-pointer.

Down 44-1, the Hawks crept closer when Kiki McElrath halved a two-shot opportunity from the line at 2:15.

The next trip down, McElrath, a talented junior point guard whose 18 points supported Bradewie’s team-high 20, missed twice from the line.

Ryan followed an exchange of empty possessions with her offensive-rebound conversion of her own miss, which Brandewie offset with a shot in close at :31.

Ziel’s clinching free throws handed the victory to Watterson, which finishes the regular season 13-5 overall and a 6-0 in the CCL entering the Division I Central District, where it’s a No. 9 seed.

“She’s a really good player.” Brandewie said of Ziel. “The last time we played them, we face-guarded her because she’s so talented. Of course, we fouled her and she’s the best free throw shooter they have. But good for her, doing that to us as a freshman. I couldn’t have done that when I was a freshman.”

Brandewie and the Hawks have plenty of aspirations remaining, however, carrying a No. 2 seed into its Division II post-season bracket after finishing 13-6 and 4-2.

“We played really well today,” she said. “I’m upset because it’s the CCL championship, but at the end of the day our goal is to win the state championship and I still feel like we have the potential to do that.”

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