POWELL — The Utica Redskins are, once again, going into a district final, but it was no cakewalk getting there.
The Redskins (20-3) gutted out a hard-fought, 49-45, victory over Fairbanks in their Tuesday night OHSAA district semifinal match at Olentangy Liberty High School. They managed to hang on in a game that looked like it would get away from them a couple of times.
Utica made 4-of-6 free throws down the stretch, and Trisha Harvey (six points, 18 rebounds, three blocks) was stellar under the boards. Kandis Walker (13 points, three steals), Tamara Londot (10 points) and Bridgit Davis (eight points, two 3’s, four assists) hit the critical buckets they needed to give Utica a berth against Pleasant in the district final Saturday.
“We knew coming in that Fairbanks was going to be a scrappy team,” said Utica coach Michelle Snow. “They weren’t going to lie down. They were on a roll and they wanted to extend their season. Anytime you get to a district tournament you’re going to have some pretty good teams playing.”
Utica was down 10-2 early, but tied it at 12 in the waning seconds of the first quarter as part of a 24-8 run that gave the Redskins a 26-18 halftime lead.
“Our kids are going to continue to fight and fight,” said Snow. “We could be down by 30. We were at Loudonville earlier this year, and we were down by 26 points. We fought until the game was over. You would have thought that it was a two-point game. These kids are not going to roll over. They’re going to continue to fight until the end of the game.”
“I think we lost focus for a little bit,” said Harvey, “but then we pulled it together as a team when we knew we needed to pull together.”
The pendulum swung in the direction of Fairbanks as Lyndsay DeRoads hit a 3-pointer and Jessica Dunlap made a basket to help the Panthers fight back to within two, 33-31.
After falling behind briefly, 39-38, the Redskins showed their toughness in the final quarter.
“One of the things that we talked about in practice was, don’t let them out-scrap you,” said Snow. “That’s one of the things we like to do, is be a scrappy team. That’s one of the things that Fairbanks has been doing also, and it has helped them to be successful.”
“[Fairbanks’] scrappiness is what shocked us a little bit,” said Harvey. “We were preparing for it, but they’re a little more scrappy than we thought.”
Walker put Utica back in the lead at 40-39 with a bucket off of a Brittany Vickers (three points, two assists) pass midway through the fourth. Unfortunately, Walker missed three of her next four free throws.
With under three minutes to go and the Redskins up by a point, Harvey rebounded a Walker missed foul shot. Walker got the feed again and landed a basket, padding the Redskins’ lead 43-40, and putting them in the driver’s seat.
“That was huge,” said Snow. “We went a little cold from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, and the fact that Trish was able to pull down a couple of offensive rebounds, we could run down some more clock. Any time you can gain a possession off of a free throw, it’s going to help your momentum. Trish has been doing a good job of rebounding for us all year. They weren’t calling a whole lot [of fouls] underneath and she kind of felt her way through the game and she knew she could be aggressive on some rebounds.”
Fairbanks’ Ember Ryan hit a bucket to make it a one-point game, but Utica hung on.
As the clock was running down, the Panthers were forced to foul Abbie Corbett (four rebounds, four points), Londot and Walker, who hit the free throws that sealed Utica’s win.
“[Walker] has been injured,” said Snow. “She really sucked it up. She’s a tough kid. They feed off each other. Kandis was hurting and her teammates were picking her up, telling her, ‘You can do it. You can do it. You’re fine.’ I heard Abbie tell her not to ‘feel sorry for yourself. Go out there and play hard.’ The nice thing is that they play for each other.”
“I didn’t want this to be our last game,” said Walker. “It clearly isn’t, so we are going to work and do what we need to do to prepare ourselves for Saturday.”