ELIDA – Maybe the odds were stacked against Columbus Grove Saturday night at the Elida Fieldhouse.
After all, the Bulldogs were playing 11th-ranked Liberty-Benton and trailed the Eagles 48-43 early in the fourth quarter.
But senior Krista Maag wouldn't let her team stumble. She helped Grove win 14 games during the regular season and decided to step up in crunch time.
Maag hit two big shots, triggering a 10-2 run that catapulted Grove to a 61-52 win over the Eagles in a Division III sectional final.
“I knew I had to come out and try to score,” said Maag, who finished with 4 points after going scoreless in the Bulldogs' sectional semifinal win over Allen East. “My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball. They deserve the credit.”
Maag isn't a major scoring threat for the Bulldogs, yet her leadership is invaluable to a team in the hunt for its third straight trip to the regional tourney.
“She is a great leader and she came up big when we needed her,” Grove head coach Jerry Hoersten said. “She didn't even score in the last game but she stepped up and helped us come away with a win.”
Grove's defensive effort played a pivotal role in the win. The Bulldogs (15-7) limited the Eagles (17-3) to only two field goals in the fourth quarter as they sealed the deal on their stunning win.
“We worked our tails off on defense last week,” Maag said. “We had the junior high boys come in and help us out and it paid off. Defense has been a big part of our success and we know we have to keep playing hard defensively if we want to continue winning.”
L-B found itself in a hole early against the Bulldogs as it trailed 18-12 at the end of the first quarter.
But they rallied thanks to the play of Amanda Hyde and Kate Saums. Hyde paced the the Eagles with 18 points and Saums clicked for 14. Erica Williman hit for 13 points.
“I wasn't sure how well we would be able to defend them because they have so many weapons,” Hoersten said. “We did a good job, though, of making adjustments, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Perhaps the biggest key to Grove's success, not only in its win over the Eagles, but throughout the year, has been their depth.
Four players scored in double figures for Grove, with Kristy Birkemeier pumping in 15 points.
Morgan Kohls dropped in 14 points and Ashley Birchmeier, who nailed two clutch treys in the second to help Grove take a 32-28 lead into halftime, hit for 12 points.
Caitlin Darbyshire scored 10 for the Bulldogs, who were 20-of-43 from the field. L-B was 18-of-38 from the floor.
“We have great depth and I think we wore them down a little bit,” Hoersten said. “I feel like it paid off for us. I think our experience made a difference, too. We've been to two straight regionals and we drew on that experience against (Liberty-Benton).
Maag is looking forward to helping her team continue down the tourney trail. The next stop is Findlay High for a 6:15 p.m. game against Swanton on Thursday.
“It's been a great year for us. We work well together and we want to do everything we can to get back to the regional again. The key is staying focused.”