DANVILLE — The Danville Blue Devils will not soon forget pulling out a dramatic 59-58 victory against the visiting Columbus Tree of Life Trojans in non-conference girls basketball action on Thursday evening.
It was a lesson in how to play against a ranked team in a pressure-packed tournament game, but it didn’t start out that way.
The Trojans (12-3), who entered the game ranked fourth in the district by the coaches in Division IV along with Gilead Christian, fell flat out of the gate.
The Blue Devils (9-7) surprised everyone, jumping out early, 9-1. They increased their lead to 19-3 and stretched it out to as much as 28-6, with 4:57 to go in the first half, when Hannah Matheny hit a jumper.
The Trojans, however, were getting defenders in position under the boards, despite being outshot in the first half. Olivia Rice (5-for-11 shooting for 12 points) landed a pair of first-half 3s for Danville. Aubrey Hazen (6-for-10 FG, 6-for-8 FT, 18 points) had several key baskets, including one with 2:46 to go in the half, which preserved Danville’s advantage, 30-9. Ashlee Townsend (nine points) and Schae Frazee (six points) made significant defensive contributions for the Devils throughout the game.
“(Tree of Life) was struggling making shots, due to our defensive intensity,” said Danville coach Christian Toombs. “I thought we played really, really well offensively and defensively in the first half.”
Danville cruised into the second half with a 19-point lead, but that was when the Trojans taught them the toughest lesson they have had all season.
It looked like more of the same early in the third quarter when Matheny fed Hazen, who hit a bucket, keeping Danville comfortably ahead, 39-20 — but not for long.
Joung Oh hit a free throw for the Trojans. Teammate TaQueeda Patton (10 steals) took it away, stealing the ball on Danville’s next trip down the court and following with a lay-up. Her teammate, Hailee Daugherty, hit a bucket soon after to cut Danville’s lead to 39-25, with 5:20 left in the third.
The Devils could only muster a field goal each from Townsend and Frazee — just enough to keep them in the lead.
“It was a good ball game for us but it was really disappointing to come out lackadaisical in the second half the way we did,” said Toombs.
Midway through the third, Tree of Life post player Tori Thompson went to work, hitting a bucket and assisting Kelly Huston on another. Patton followed with a basket off a steal and Oh did the same, closing the gap to 42-34. With a little more than two minutes left in the third, the Devils still had the lead, but their game was unraveling.
Thompson (8-for-13 FG, 6-11 FT, 22 points) made it a one-point game, converting the free-throw after she hit a bucket to make it 44-43 at the end of the third.
Thompson’s free throw to start the fourth quarter tied it up at 44, but the Trojan’s star wasn’t through. Thompson hit four more buckets and Tree of life was up 54-48 with five minutes to go in the game. Matheny kept things close, hitting a shot and making it 54-50 with 4:42 left. The writing, however, was on the wall when Thompson picked up her fourth foul. Danville’s Katelyn Walls failed to convert on either free throw, but the Trojans’ momentum had slowed.
“I was really proud of them. We played a couple of freshmen, who we don’t normally play and they kept us right in the ball game,” said Toombs. “They did an unbelievable job. Meghan Sharp and Mel Alberts are only freshmen. Also, Ashley Didinger (two points, two rebounds) and Schae Frazee (six points) — those kids came off the bench and played their hearts out. At one point, we had three starters on the bench.”
“We don’t have a lot of people on the bench so the freshmen had to come out and show that they have what it takes,” said Frazee. “They had to step up. They kept us in the game.”
Hazen hit a field goal and added the free throw to close the gap to 56-53 with three-and-a-half minutes to go. Danville’s depth began to show as Thompson fouled out of the game with 2:16 left, sending Townsend to the line. Townsend hit her foul shots and, 30 seconds later, Hazen hit another to tie it up at 56.
The Devils took the lead with a minute-and-a-half left when Hazen fed the ball inside to Townsend, who hit the basket, making it 58-56.
“I didn’t think it would be that tough,” said Townsend. “That’s why it got so close is that we didn’t step it up. We had seniors that stepped up and tried to get us going. We just realized that we had to win this.”
The Trojans took it right back down and scored on their next possession — a Huston basket — tying it at 58 with 1:15 left.
It was Townsend’s turn again. Hitting the back half of a pair of free throws with 58 seconds to go, she gave the Devils a slim, 59-58 lead. Unfortunately, for the Devils, Townsend fouled out seconds later, sending the Trojans’ Lisha Baden to the line for the one-and-one. Baden missed, giving the ball back to Danville with half a minute on the clock.
Another Patton steal, and a struggle for the ball, with 16.5 seconds left, gave the Trojans another chance. Patton inbounded the ball to Oh, who rushed the jumper from the top of the key and missed. The ball went out of bounds, apparently off a Danville player, giving Tree of Life another life. With eight ticks left on the clock, Patton inbounded the ball again. This time Trojans’ Hailee Daugherty and Huston, each missed from underneath, the latter fouling Rice with less than a second left.
“Everyone was a little nervous but we knew we had to play good defense and guard the ball,” said Frazee. “We hit our free throws when they fouled us.”
“We dropped some smaller schools from our schedule and picked up some bigger schools just for that reason — for tournament time,” said Toombs. “We did it to make us better. We just didn’t have anything to prepare us in the past. We picked up some bigger schools and we beat Centennial and we lost to Claymont by one at Claymont so, I think our schedule got us to where we are right now and I think we could make a run at tournament time.”