KENT TARBOX / for The Courier
Ottawa-Glandorf’s Kelsey Erford, right, is trapped on the baseline by Liberty-Benton’s Savanah Richards (10) and Schy Shepherd, left, during Saturday’s Division III district final girls basketball game at Elida.


Staff writer

ELIDA — Liberty-Benton’s Alissa Rhodes hit what she appropriately called the shot of her life.

But the Eagles still had work to do. Rhodes’ 3-pointer at the buzzer of the second overtime forged a 48-48 tie in Saturday’s girls Division III district final at the Elida Fieldhouse, and there were four more minutes to play in a third overtime.

Rhodes hit a layup early in the third extra period, Savanah Richards had two key steals and hit five of six free throws in the final minute and L-B defeated Ottawa-Glandorf 55-50 in a battle of state-ranked teams.

Liberty-Benton, second in the final Associated Press poll and seeded first in the district, improved to 25-1 and will play Delta in a regional semifinal at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at Ohio Northern. Delta (22-3) advanced by defeating Woodmore 44-29 in another district final Saturday.

Ottawa-Glandorf, ranked fifth in the final AP poll and seeded second in the district, finishes its season at 23-2. Both of O-G losses were to Liberty-Benton.

Perhaps fueled by a jolt of energy from Rhodes’ basket, the Eagles ramped up the defensive pressure in the third overtime. Five of the Titans’ 14 turnovers came in the final OT.

“We came out in a zone to try and save Caitlin (Elseser’s) legs a little bit, and keep her out of foul trouble,” L-B coach Nate Irwin said. “We went back to our bread and butter, and our man defense worked really well in overtime.”

Richards, who finished with a game-high 20 points, was fouled and hit two free throws with 1:05 left in the third overtime to give L-B a 52-50 lead. She stole the ball from O-G senior Erin Kaufman and hit the first of a one-and-one opportunity with 23 seconds left, and picked Kaufman again and hit both ends of a one-and-one with 15 seconds left.

Richards was 9 of 10 from the line, all in the second half and overtime.

“Erin Kaufman wanted the ball in her hands, and I think maybe we didn’t have other girls help her out enough,” Ottawa-Glandorf coach Troy Yant said. “That kind of created some situations where Erin was left to do too much. It’s a long game, and sometimes what you want to do in your head, your body isn’t willing to do in that moment.”

Those triple-overtime heroics wouldn’t have been possible without Rhodes providing the drama to end the second OT.

The Titans, up 46-45, got a big rebound from Brianna Schimmoeller after Richards missed a layup. Schimmoeller was fouled, and hit both ends of a one-and-one to put O-G up three points with just more than 3 seconds on the clock.

Irwin called the play during Liberty-Benton’s timeout after Schimmoeller’s free throws.

“We got what we wanted. I’ve coached here for 15 years, and we’ve had that same play in our playbook,” Irwin said. “We work on it a handful of times in practice during the season, and I’ll be honest: It doesn’t work a whole lot.”

Schy Shepherd ran the baseline and heaved an inbound pass to Richards near center court.

“I saw Savanah coming down the court, and she had two or three people on her,” said Rhodes, who led the Blanchard Valley Conference during the regular season in 3-point shooting percentage (30 of 63 for 48 percent). “I know she’s not a selfish player, so she passed it to me. I was pretty well guarded, and I shot it because there was no time left. It went in.”

Rhodes had about a second to catch, set and release, all while making sure she was beyond the arc.

“When we had the timeout, coach Irwin said we needed a 3-pointer,” Rhodes said. “I was already on that line, ready to shoot it if it was passed to me.”

Yant said the Titans’ plan was to foul Richards as soon as she touched the ball.

“Our thing was to keep them in front of us and foul them on the catch,” Yant said. “That’s what we told them in the timeout. It’s just situational basketball. Yes, we were trying to get a foul, but Savanah just took it from us and made a great play.”

Richards said she had the option to shoot or pass once she caught the inbound pass.

“Like coach says, they’ve run that play for 15 years and it maybe works one out of 15 times. Today was the one time, I guess,” Richards said.

“So, I got the ball and I had time for three dribbles to go up and shoot myself, or two dribbles and kick it to Alissa.

“We were getting on Alissa a little bit, because going into overtime she had zero shots. She’s capable of being a double-digit scorer, easily. Her passing up shot was not what we needed.

“I got in deep enough where they left Alissa open. I was on the ground just praying, and it went in. It gave us a lot of momentum going into the next overtime, I think.”

Both teams had to gather themselves and get ready for another extra period.

“Coach Irwin was excited, we were all excited, but we figured, well, we’ve played this long so we may as well finish it,” Richards said. “Going out on the floor, I told the girls, let’s focus. I know it’s exciting, but let’s keep our focus and not let them get one of those moments as well.”

Ottawa-Glandorf got a putback off an offensive rebound from Kelsey Erford, who had a game-best 11 rebounds, to tie the game at 50-50 with 1:26 left in third OT. Yant said, though, that his team may have been emotionally drained after Rhodes’ basket.

“Obviously, we had some turnovers down the stretch when we were just tired and trying to make something happen,” he said. “At the end of the first one, we thought we had them in overtime and at the end of the second one, we thought we had them in overtime. We didn’t lose after that one. It felt that way to them, the girls, I think, and we had to try and get their heads turned back around. Hey, you have to play.”

In regulation time, the game was a back-and-forth affair. Kaufman drained a 3-pointer late in the first quarter to give O-G an 11-9 lead, but Liberty-Benton rallied on an Elseser layup, a Richards layup and a Richards 3-pointer to go up 16-11 early in the second.

O-G finished the quarter on an 11-4 run to lead 22-20 at halftime. The teams traded narrow leads throughout the second half, and a pair of Richards free throws tied the game at 39-39 with 2:59 left in the fourth. Neither team would score again in regulation.

The Titans got baskets from freshman Erin Kaufman and Ashley Schroeder to start the first overtime, but Elseser and Richards scored for L-B to knot the game at 43-43 after the first OT.

O-G senior Erin Kaufman hit a free throw and a basket later in the second overtime, sandwiched around a basket from L-B’s Sammy Shardo and O-G led 46-45 as the clock wound down. Schimmoeller’s free throws and L-B’s inbound play followed.

“Savanah was supposed to cut deep and throw it to her on the run,” Irwin said. “She has the option to pull up and shoot a three if she’s open, and if not she kicks to a good 3-point shooter. Alissa made a heck of a shot. She picked a good time to hit a big one. That was a huge shot.”

Ottawa-GLandorf (23-2)

Schroeder 3-0–6, Kaufman (sr.) 6-1–14, Erford 3-0–6, Schimmoeller 3-2–11, Kaufman (fr.) 2-3–7, Ellerbrock 2-0–6. TOTALS: 19-45 6-8 — 50.

Liberty-Benton (25-1)

Shardo 6-0–17, Richards 5-9–20, Elseser 5-1–11, Rhodes 1-1–5, Shepherd 0-2–2. TOTALS: 18-36 12-17 — 55.

Ottawa-Glandorf 11 11 13 4 4 5 2 — 50

Liberty-Benton 9 11 12 7 4 5 7 — 55

3-Point GOALS: Ottawa-Glandorf 6-20 (Schimmoeller 3, Ellerbrock 2, Kaufman (sr.); Liberty-Benton 7-15 (Shardo 5, Richards, Rhodes).

rebounds: Ottawa-Glandorf 28 (Erford 11); Liberty-Benton 20 (Elseser 6).

turnovers: Ottawa-Glandorf 14; Liberty-Benton 14.