A couple of inches separated Newark Catholic from the state tournament Saturday.
NC had two shots at the lead during the final 15 seconds, but the Green Wave were left to another heartbreaking finish for a school that has had its share this year.
NC trailed by 14 in the second quarter and fought back to take the lead on two occasions, but the Green Wave ultimately fell short in a Division IV regional final loss to Reedsville Eastern, 57-56, at Pickerington North. Jill Blacksten’s shot from the left block bounced off the rim, and Caroline Wollenburg lost the rebound on her way back up in the midst of Eagles’ arms.
“We got off to a slow start, but we believed in ourselves,” NC sophomore Jenna Bourne said. “We remembered everything that we worked for this entire season. We didn’t want to give up. (Coach Rob Smith) told us, ‘I’ve got a good feeling,’ and we had a great feeling. We just didn’t pull all the way through.”
NC football had its state title dreams end at goal line in the state final. Boys golf and basketball also had gut-wrenching finishes to postseason play. The Green Wave appeared to have cleared their hurdle.
NC (24-3) had one more chance after two missed Eastern (22-4) free throws, but the Green Wave could not get a shot during the final three seconds. NC advanced a step farther than 2012, but the Green Wave were hoping for the program’s first state tournament appearance in 1987.
“We were the best-conditioned team again,” Smith said. “We had enough energy, and I thought we had pulled it off. It is a shame because I really thought we were playing next Friday at 1 (p.m.).”
NC was within 32-28 early in the third quarter, but Eastern regained a double-digit advantage at 42-30. Caitlin Andrews’ 3-pointer, however, started the Green Wave on a 10-2 run to close the third and set up a thrilling finish.
Jill Blacksten’s 3 with 4:12 left gave NC a momentary 49-48 lead, but Jenna Burdette — a junior guard who already has committed to Dayton — answered with a three-point play on the next possession.
It was tied at 55 when Blacksten blocked a shot, corralled the rebound, then drew a shooting foul at the other end with less than a minute to play.
Blacksten’s first foul shot rimmed out, but she made the second to give the Green Wave a 56-55 lead. Burdette got trapped along the baseline at the other end. She, however, was able to get her own rebound and draw a foul with 23 seconds left, making both for the game’s final points.
Burdette finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
NC set up a play for Blacksten on the left block. She got her shot over the double team, but it bounced off the rim to the weak side. Wollenburg caught it in traffic, and the Green Wave were left hoping they could have at least gotten an 80 percent foul shooter two chances from the line.
“We called the right play,” Smith said. “We got it low. We executed perfectly. I thought we could have went to the free-throw line, but it wasn’t called.”
NC trailed 16-8 after one quarter thanks to nine turnovers and the all-around play of Burdette. She had 10 first-quarter points and added two 3s early in the second to build a 24-10 lead.
The Green Wave rallied with a balanced attack, and NC also had just two turnovers in the second half, including none in the fourth. Blacksten led with 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Kelly Clapper added 13 points and eight assists.
Ashleigh Parkinson had 10 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 3:53 left. Wollenburg added eight points, and Bourne and Andrews provided key defensive minutes, slowing Burdette to three second-half field goals.
“Those sophomores just kept coming at them, didn’t they?” Smith said. “We kept fighting. We could have folded like a tent. We kept fighting and going at them. There was no quit.”