By DAVE HANNEMAN
ELIDA — All the incentive C.J. Kemper, Bridget Landin and the Ottoville girls basketball team needed is right there on the locker room wall, a daily reminder of where they’ve been and where they want to be.
“We have a picture of Berlin Hiland storming the court after making that (game-winning) shot, and we’re all, like, brokenhearted,” Kemper said.
“Last year was a new experience, but we didn’t get what we wanted. So we have that picture hanging in the locker room and every day we see that. That’s why we wanted it so bad.”
Landin scored 23 points, Kasey Knippen had 13 and Kemper eight in leading Ottoville to a 52-29 win over Leipsic on Saturday in the Division IV girls regional championship game at the Elida Fieldhouse.
It is the second straight regional title for Ottoville, and seventh in Dave Kleman’s 26 seasons as head coach.
The Big Green, 26-2, will face Buckeye Central (26-1) at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Division IV state semifinals in Columbus.
Kemper, Landin and several other Ottoville players were part of last year’s team that fell 44-41 to Berlin Hiland in the state semifinals. After that one-and-done loss, making a return trip to the Schottenstein Center became priority No. 1.
“We were determined. We really wanted to get back to state,” Landin said. “We knew we could do it if we put our hearts out on the floor and played like it.”
Leipsic would pose no easy task.
In a regular-season matchup between the Putnam County League schools, Leipsic led Ottoville 26-24 heading into the fourth quarter before faltering down the stretch.
In that game, a fast start was crucial for Leipsic. In Saturday’s regional final, the Vikings never got the chance.
Knippen opened the game with a 3-pointer, Quinley Schlagbaum followed with another as Ottoville took a quick 6-0 lead. Kierra Meyer finally put Leipsic on the board, 2:40 into the game, but Kemper connected and Landin converted a free throw after an offensive rebound to jump the lead to 9-2.
Ottoville’s quick start was a worst-case scenario as far as Leipsic coach Gary Kreinbrink was concerned.
“(Ottoville) has hardly any weaknesses whatsoever,” Kreinbrink said. “If they had maybe one throughout the year, their outside shooting has been suspect, but they go out and hit their first one (3-pointer), then Schlagbaum hits another, and it’s 6-0 right out of the gate.”
Leipsic rallied to make it a one-possession game, trimming the deficit to 13-10 with an 8-4 run. But Landin, the PCL and District 8 Player of the Year, wasn’t about to let opportunity slip away.
A 6-foot senior who has signed with the University of Findlay, Landin scored nine points in the second quarter.
Landin’s second basket of the second quarter inched Ottoville’s lead to 15-10. She then converted two free throws with 58 seconds left before halftime and nailed a 3-pointer with six ticks left to put the Big Green up 22-10 at the break.
“We got it to 13-10 with maybe three minutes to go (in the half), then they go on a 9-0 run capped by Landin’s 3. That was tough to overcome,” Kreinbrink said.
“We tried to hang in there as long as we could. But we’ve not been a great offensive team all year. Ottoville has great experience, and they’re going back to state.”
Landin followed her nine-point second quarter with an 11-point third quarter when Ottoville stretched the lead to 41-25.
“We knew what they were going to do,” Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said of a 2-3 Leipsic zone that, at times, was effective in limiting Ottoville’s open looks. “We just needed to be more patient and get the ball to our scorers.”
Defense, an Ottoville trademark, was a difference maker once again. The Big Green limited Leipsic to 1 of 7 shooting from 3-point range, 12 of 39 overall, and capitalized on 14 Viking turnovers, 10 in the first half.
Kleman, rifling through a stack of papers until he found one with 15 or 16 diagrams on it, was prepared.
“Gary is a great coach and he runs great sets, ” Kleman said. “If you saw their scouting report from their game against Wayne Trace the other night, he had at least 12 sets he was running in that game. It’s hard to prepare for that. We felt we had to take away their half-court game and limit their ability to get their scorers the ball.”
Kierra Meyer had a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double for Leipsic. Heather Lammers added 10 points for the Vikings, who ended the season at 23-4.
“Overachievers is kind of a hard word to admit to,” Kreinbrink said. “But, yeah, I don’t think anybody at the beginning of the year was saying we’d win 23 games and make a regional final appearance. If they had, we’d probably have said yes at that point.”
For Ottoville, the ride continues.
“It never gets old,” Kleman said.
“I made the analogy last year it’s like taking your kids to Cedar Point or Disney World. You’ve been there five, six times. But it’s their first time, so you see it through new eyes every time. It’s really neat to see them enjoy it.”
Kemper 3-5 2-2 8, B. Landin 7-15 6-8 23, Schlagbaum 1-3 0-0 3, Miller 0-2 2-2 2, K. Knippen 4-10 2-2 13, Hoersten 0-4 3-4 3. TOTALS: 15-39 15-18 — 52.
Henry 0-3 0-2 0, Siefker 1-3 0-0 2, Meyer 6-16 1-2 14, Lammers 4-10 2-3 10, Rigel 1-6 1-2 3, Sickmiller 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 12-39 4-9 — 29.
Ottoville 9 13 19 11 — 52
Leipsic 4 6 15 4 — 29
3-POINT GOALS: Ottoville 7-14 (Landin 3-4, Schlagbaum 1-2, Miller 0-1, Knippen 3-5, Hoersten 0-2); Leipsic 1-7 (Henry 0-1, Meyer 1-3, Lammers 0-3).
REBOUNDS: Ottoville 28 (Landin 7, Kemper 5); Leipsic 27 (Meyer 10).
TURNOVERS: Ottoville 8, Leipsic 14.
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