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H.S. HOOPS

LEANING IN - Hannah Baker of Fieldcrest attempts a shot during the second half of the regional championship contest with Olympia. Baker's three-point play with just under 12 seconds remaining put the hosts on top to stay in a 51-48 victory (For the Journal/TNT Photo).

MINONK – Both Olympia and Fieldcrest have experienced their fair share of pain, blues and agony.

At the conclusion of the Feb. 7 championship game, one team would be able to celebrate a first-ever regional title. The host Knights squandered a double-digit halftime lead, but came out a 51-48 winner.

Fieldcrest (20-12) extended the advantage to 13 twice at 28-15 and 30-17, which was the score at the break.

Olympia (18-13) would not go down quietly, as the Spartans scored the first seven points of the third quarter cut the margin to 30-24.

“It’s the postseason. You know a team is not going to lie down,” said Fieldcrest coach Mitch Neally. “They’re a tough team. It took us a while to adjust and settle down. Once we did, we were able to weather the storm.”

Olympia went ahead 47-44 on a conventional three-point play from Colby Burt with just over two minutes remaining.

Fieldcrest junior Hannah Baker put the hosts on top with a hoop with 11.5 seconds to go. She was fouled on the play and made the free toss to make it 49-48. Alyx Carls tacked on two more free throws to increase the lead to three with 1.8 left.

The Spartans got off a desperation three-quarter court shot that was well short and to the left.

“We just had to play our game and take it right to them,” pointed out Olympia coach Courtney Hoffman. “I think the kids had confidence at halftime. We were still in the ballgame and did not play very well.

“We wanted to pressure and got (some) turnovers. We took the lead and we kind of lost it in the end.”

The guests were whistled for 28 fouls, 14 in each half. Three starters were sent to the sidelines with five.

Fieldcrest went to the foul line 32 times and sank 22.

“When their girls were in foul trouble, that’s where we wanted to turn the tempo up,” said Neally, whose defense triggered 26 Spartans’ turnovers. “We knew they had a lack of depth. They definitely hand-check and get in you. When they did, I told them to get in a triple threat position. They’re unselfish. They find their teammates.”

Addie Goodrich, who did not score in the semifinal against El Paso-Gridley, rectified that against Olympia, as she recorded a team-high 17 points.

“They put two girls on her,” explained Neally of the Titans' defensive strategy. “She kind of took it upon herself. She missed a couple I’m sure she wanted back. When one girl is having an off night, we pick each other up.”

Burt led all scorers with 18 points, while Chloe Scroggins followed with 10. Burt was one of the three Olympia players to foul out.

The Spartans have made a miraculous turnaround since they went over six calendar years, a span of 93 games, from 2010 to the late stages of ‘16 without a victory.

“We called it the process,” Hoffman said. “I had some really dedicated kids who wanted to put some time in and wanted to implement a system for the kids coming up. We lost, but this whole season was a big victory in what we accomplished.”

Meanwhile, Fieldcrest suffered through 12 consecutive losing seasons from 1998 to ’09. Thursday’s win wiped out all of that history.

“This program has been waiting 27 years for one,” said Neally of a regional championship. “When I took over four years ago, I told the girls we need to get one up in the rafters. I’m so proud of this team. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity. This group of girls worked their tails off. They’ve bought it and they believe in each other.”

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