CAMBRIDGE CITY, Ind. – Tawni Brown was a freshman on Hagerstown’s junior varsity team three years ago, watching from the stands the last time the Tigers played for a sectional title.
Brown described the experience as “heartbreaking.”
Saturday night’s return to the Class 2A Sectional 41 championship elicited a different response from Brown — and a different outcome for the Tigers.
Hagerstown is a sectional champion once again. The Tigers held off a determined Union County squad 32-24 to advance to next week’s regional at Speedway.
“I just wanted to be part of something to make it this far,” said Brown, who had six points and four rebounds in the Tigers’ winning effort. “To go from freshman year, watching it just tumble apart, to this triumphant feeling is absolutely amazing.”
Hagerstown’s last sectional final also came in Lincoln’s gym, a 45-37 loss in 2012 to a Centerville team that, much like this year’s Patriot squad, was peaking at just the right time.
History did not repeat itself.
The Tigers led 14-11 at halftime, and 20-17 after three quarters.
But Union County, a two-win team two years ago, tied the game 22-all early in the fourth quarter on a basket by Sammie Elleman.
That was the Tigers’ wake-up call. Kaley Caudill got the roll on an inside look — and an extra shot after she was fouled — followed by two more free throws from Brytni Dale and another basket by Caudill.
That made it 29-22 Hagerstown. And when Union County cut its deficit to five, the Tigers closed out their first sectional title since 2009 with the game’s final three points.
“Every girl stepped up and got the job done tonight, and we are Sectional 41 champs,” said coach Chris Oliger, in his 13th year leading Hagerstown. “It is the greatest feeling in the world.
“I’ve been in this gym three times in the final. The first time I lost in triple overtime to Shenandoah. The second time I lost to Centerville in a heart wrencher. We finally got it done, and it’s all those girls’ credit.”
Oliger noted that the Tigers’ last title came on the same day — Feb. 14 — and is also the birthday of his daughter, Delaney, who turned 10 on Saturday.
A good omen indeed for the Tigers.
“Give them every bit of credit,” Oliger said of his team. “They wanted it.”
Caudill led all scorers with 14 points, while Gabby Willis added six.
Willis opened the game the same way she did in Wednesday’s win over Northeastern and Friday’s victory against Centerville — with a 3-pointer.
Dale grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, Caudill added seven and Savannah Houck six.
“Our defense, that was pretty much it,” Caudill said of keys to the victory. “I was so nervous for this game. You come out thinking it was going to be an all-out dogfight.”
That was a safe assumption, given the final featured two of the three teams to share the Tri-Eastern Conference title this season.
Union County had momentum on its side, too. The Patriots knocked off defending champion Knightstown in Tuesday’s tournament opener, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to oust Eastern Hancock in Friday’s semifinal round.
UC coach Scott Gray said he told his squad they had “too good of a season to be disappointed.”
“Obviously they wanted to win. I wanted to win. The community wanted to win,” Gray said. “Steppingstones for us. Getting to a conference title. Getting to 14 wins. Being able to beat two good teams in Knightstown and Eastern Hancock.
“We’re really pleased about our progress and where we think we’re going in the future.”
Maddie Fulton led the Patriots with six points, with Tanner Henry and Sierra Dowler scoring five each.
Fulton and Madison Walters had six rebounds for the Patriots, who finished 14-11.
“We knew coming in it was going to be a battle,” Gray said. “I thought we defended probably as well as we could. They have a lot of weapons out there. I thought we played our role in that very well.”
Hagerstown (21-4) will face No. 7 Covenant Christian (19-6), a 60-28 winner over South Putnam, in a 10 a.m. regional semifinal.
Top-ranked Heritage Christian (24-2) faces No. 3 Triton Central (23-1) in the other semifinal.
“I’m speechless really,” Brown said. “We’re a family, this team. We’ve really grown and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Added Caudill: “We came out with the best defense we have, and let the offense do its thing.”
Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI
TIGERS 32, PATRIOTS 24
UNION COUNTY (14-11)-Goecke 1 0-0 2, Strait 0 0-0 0, Henry 2 0-0 5, Waltz 0 0-0 0, Fulton 1 4-5 6, Walters 1 0-0 2, Dowler 2 0-2 5, Elleman 2 0-0 4. TOTALS-9 4-7 24.
Union County 7 11 17 24
Hagerstown 7 14 20 32
3-pointers– UC 2 (Henry, Dowler), H 1 (Willis). Rebounds-UC 26 (Fulton, Walters 6), H 39 (Dale 13). Turnovers-UC 12, H 13. Fouls-UC 15, H 7. Fouled out-Henry, Fulton.
• MVP: Kaley Caudill, Hagerstown
•Gabby Willis, Hagerstown
•Brytni Dale, Hagerstown
•Maddie Fulton, Union County
•Tanner Henry, Union County
•Shelby Short, Centerville
*—Selected by Palladium-Item sports staff