Trailing two-time defending state champion Twinsburg by 20 points, the Olentangy Orange High School girls basketball team managed to rally to within seven in a Division I state semifinal March 15 at Ohio State.
The Pioneers would get no closer, however, and lost 73-63 to finish 26-3 overall, but the second-half rally epitomized one of the things coach Mary Ann Grimes loved most about her team.
"There was no quit in this dog," Grimes said. "My hat is off to this team because they did not quit. For these seniors, I'm very, very proud of them."
Twinsburg, which lost to Kettering Fairmont 52-48 in the state final March 16, increased its 41-29 halftime lead to 60-40 with 2 minutes, 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Senior guard Kierstynn Myers and junior post player Sarah Sagerer both made 3-pointers to help the Pioneers cut into the double-digit lead, but there were only 36 seconds left by the time Orange was within seven points at 70-63.
Twinsburg senior guard Ashley Morrissette, a Purdue University signee who earlier in the week was named Ohio's Ms. Basketball, made nine of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter.
The contest marked the final game for Orange's six-member senior class that included four starters in Myers, guards Taylor Agler and Maddy Joseph and forward Mya Walker. The Pioneers also lose their fifth starter in Sagerer, who is an exchange student from Austria.
"I think it finally hit us that we didn't want to lose," Walker said. "We started playing harder.
"The best part of this was doing it with my best friends. I'm just so proud because no one can take this away from us. The fact that we won't be playing together anymore is why it's so hard."
Walker made nine of 15 shots from the field and had 20 points and six rebounds to lead the Pioneers. Agler was 8-for-15 from the floor and had 19 points and Myers was 3-for-6 and scored 10.
Orange's 63 points were the most Twinsburg allowed this season.
Morrissette had 20 points but made just five of 14 shots from the floor. Also scoring in double figures for Twinsburg were senior guard Brooke Thompson-Smith (19), junior guard/forward Baleigh Reid (15) and senior forward Char-dell Dunnigan (14).
Twinsburg was 27-for-47 from the field but was outrebounded by Orange 28-26. However, Grimes believed her team missed out on key rebounding opportunities during the middle two quarters when the Tigers gained control.
"That's probably the best defense I've played against in high school," said Agler, who injured her right knee with 1:14 remaining and did not return. "I was pressured all the way up the floor."
"We started the game by missing four or five bunnies on open looks," Grimes said. "You could see the girls getting a little bit tight."
The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak by Orange, which was making its first state appearance in its five-year history.
The Pioneers won their final eight regular-season games, including a 64-60 victory over Olentangy in an OCC-Capital Division game Jan. 26. They also beat the Braves in the first round of league play, 57-52 on Dec. 15, on their way to winning their third consecutive league title.
Orange went 14-0 in the OCC-Capital, finishing ahead of Olentangy (12-2), New Albany (10-4), Delaware (7-7), Big Walnut (6-8), Mount Vernon (4-10), Watkins Memorial (3-11) and Franklin Heights (0-14).
Seeded third of 43 teams in the district tournament, the Pioneers beat 38th-seeded Whetstone (83-40 on Feb. 16), 39th-seeded Chillicothe (76-36 on Feb. 20), 11th-seeded Zanesville (58-36 on Feb. 28) and fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman (60-47 on March 2) to win their first district championship. Orange had been a district runner-up each of the past two seasons.
The Pioneers then defeated Gahanna 63-52 in overtime in a regional semifinal March 5 and beat North Canton Hoover 61-55 in a regional final March 8 to advance to state.
It was the third state appearance for Grimes in her coaching career. She led Dresden Tri-Valley to a Class AAA runner-up finish in 1985 and was an assistant when West Lafayette Ridgewood was a Class AA runner-up in 1980.
Grimes was named OCC-Capital Coach of the Year and is 69-8 in three seasons with the Pioneers.
An Indiana recruit, Agler averaged 16 points, eight assists and four steals. She was named league Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and first-team all-district.
Walker averaged 15 points and six rebounds and was second-team all-district and first-team all-league. Joseph averaged eight points and three assists and was second-team all-league, and Myers averaged seven points and was honorable mention all-league.
Sagerer averaged nine points and eight rebounds and senior forward Tori Davis averaged four points off the bench.
The leading returning scorer next year likely will be sophomore forward Lexi Werling, who averaged 2.2 points. Junior guard Emilia Martin, sophomore guard Breanna Barron and sophomore forward Mikaela Lyons all played during the final minute of the state semifinal.
"We proved that we're one of the best teams in the state, and the best part is that we proved some people wrong and probably made some people mad that we were here," Agler said.