By ANDY WOLF
COLUMBUS — March Madness turns to March Sadness for any team that doesn’t go the distance.
A loss is still a loss, but all aren’t created equal.
Buzzer-beaters comprise so much of March Madness.
For the past two seasons, the Ottoville girls basketball team’s season has ended with the ball in the air and no time remaining. Both came against the top-ranked team in the state in Division IV, including a 44-41 setback Thursday to Berlin Hiland in the state semifinal at Value City Arena.
“It makes it a lot harder,” junior C.J. Kemper said of the tough losses. “It just makes you think of all the little things that could’ve made you come out on top that you just didn’t do.”
Just last season, the Big Green, then ranked fifth, fell in the district finals when Kasey Knippen’s 3-point heave went off target as the backboard lit up, cementing a 45-44 Arlington victory. The game featured 17 lead changes and seven ties.
The scenario was reversed on Thursday.
Berlin Hiland’s Kennedy Schlabach released a 3-pointer with under a second to go and swished it after the buzzer sounded, sending the No. 1-ranked Hawks (28-1) into Saturday’s state championship against Waterford.
The loss cut deep for a tight Ottoville team that finished the season at 24-4.
“We’re just such a close-knit team that it hurt us more,” Ottoville senior Bridget Landin said.
Kemper added: “We’ve been playing together since we were in fourth grade. So it was going to be really hard missing the seniors. They give it so much and work so hard.”
Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said there are eight senior girls in the entire school, four of whom play basketball.
Many come from families that go back generation after generation within the community.
The small class size builds a sister-like bond between them.
“We’re all homegrown and I’m very proud of that,” Kleman said. “Not a lot of teams that are playing in this can say that. That’s why we’re such a close-knit group.”
The loss undoubtedly put a damper on an Ottoville team hungry to win it all.
The Green returned all but one player from last season and ran through the regular season at 19-3
In the process they knocked off strong programs and perennial powers such as Wayne Trace, Arlington twice, Coldwater, Minster and Liberty-Benton — each ranked in the final girls basketball state Associated Press poll for their respective divisions.
“I gave them tonight to mourn and cry about it,” Kleman said. “Tomorrow I better see a bunch of happy faces when we get up in the morning.”
Despite losing four seniors, including three starters, who played in Thursday’s semifinal, the Big Green are anxious to make another deep run next season.
They’ll lose Landin, their leading scorer, Brooke Mangas and Alexis Thorbahn who each scored two points Thursday, and Madison Knodell who came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer.
This year’s JV team posted a respectable 21-1 mark.
“Don’t count us out for next year either and the year after either because we’ve got some good kids coming,” Kleman said. “We’ve got a good core of these kids coming back. We’re always ready to give it another shot.”
Kleman has guided six different teams to the state tournament in his 25 years at Ottoville (1993, 1996, 2005, 2007, 2013 and this year).
It’s not a stretch to think he can do it again.
“I’m seeing it through a new set of eyes, and that’s what we’re doing with this group down here,” Kleman said. “It’s a new set of eyes, getting down here to the state tournament, seeing the wonder and the joy, the pain and the sorrow too,
“But it’s all about life. Like I said in 2013, if this is the worst day of our lives, we’re living a pretty good life.”