LIGONIER — History was on the line at West Noble High School when West Noble sophomore Lilly Mast lined up to inbound a pass from under the Tippecanoe Valley basket Monday night.
Since tying the game at 39-39 and forcing a Tippecanoe Valley turnover while the Vikings attempted to run down the clock from 1:37 for the game’s last shot, West Noble had missed on one opportunity from three and nearly turned the ball over on its second effort toward breaking the tie.
As Mast lined up to put the ball back in play, senior forward Madison Schermerhorn pushed her way into position to field a pass with her left hand. Attempting a shot beneath the basket with her right hand, Schermerhorn missed the attempt, but on the rebound, the ball bounced around and found its way back to the senior, who turned around with nothing but the basket, the ball and a chance at giving her school its first sectional championship since 1988.
She hit the short layup and gave the Chargers a 41-39 lead with 7.3 seconds remaining. West Noble and its six seniors earned a sectional title.
“When I got the ball, I was like, ‘OK, just try to finish it up,’” Schermerhorn said. “I hadn’t been finishing well the whole game. When I got it, I said, ‘That’s it, I’m going to get this.’ When I did, I looked at (senior guard) Lauren (Burns) and was like, ‘We just did this. We just did this.’”
West Noble started strongly on a 10-0 run Monday night, which was the opposite of what Tippecanoe Valley had experienced against Lakeland in the semifinal matchup Saturday, when senior Sophie Bussard — who averages just less then 22 points per game and scored 26 Saturday — scored 11 midway through the first quarter and the Vikings hit 18 by the first buzzer.
That scoring by the Chargers on Monday came from two threes hit by Burns and senior Megan Godfrey. The two combined for all of West Noble’s 10 first-quarter points. But the Vikings jumped back in and rattled off a 9-0 run of their own to end the first quarter within a point, 10-9.
That 10-point lead was the largest of the night just four minutes into the game, and the remainder of the game wouldn’t see any more lopsided favors.
Thanks to four more points from Godfrey, five from senior Angela Gross and Schermerhorn’s first two of the game, West Noble ended the first half with a 22-18 lead. Bussard was limited to eight points in the first half.
“We hit shots,” West Noble head coach Dale Marano said about the first half. “When we hit shots, we’re an amazingly good team. Then we went on a stretch where we couldn’t hit anything. They’re the same shots.”
It wasn’t until five and half minutes had ticked away that West Noble scored its first points in the third quarter. But when they began to score, the Chargers laid it on the Vikings. Senior Tori Miller, who hadn’t scored yet in the game, hit a 3-point shot to tie the game late in the third. Then she caught an entry pass on a broken defensive play by Tippecanoe Valley and converted the 3-point play to give West Noble the lead again.
After falling behind, West Noble recovered to salvage a 10-10 third quarter and a 4-point lead to begin the fourth quarter.
“Whenever we went on the court, we looked at each other like, ‘This is our game. This is our floor. This is our atmosphere. We won’t let them take that away from us,’” Schermerhorn said.
Another three from Miller and a three from Mast — her first and only score of the game — kept West Noble in position, as Tippecanoe Valley sophomore Sidney Wagner scored six points to continue the back-and-forth with the Chargers.
In the waning seconds, West Noble had already stopped Bussard once. But in the final seconds, Schermerhorn said the Charger defense looked to take away the only 3-point threat the Vikings offered: Bussard. They trapped her and stole the ball as the buzzer went off.
“Our defense all year has been tremendous,” Marano said. “At the end of the game, we went as quick as we could with the girls on the floor, and we wanted to get to the spots on the floor as quickly as we could. Sophie was one of those spots.”
Coming into the season with nearly its entire starting five being composed of seniors, West Noble knew this year had to be the year to make history, Schermerhorn said. With only two contributors in Mast and sophomore forward Nichelle Phares not being seniors, a sectional title was a collective goal for Schermerhorn and her teammates.
“We set our goals at the beginning of the year, and this was one of them,” Marano said about the sectional championship. “We didn’t accomplish some that we had set earlier, but as I told the girls, this is the grandest of all the goals. If we’re going to win one, this is what we’re down to, right? This is the one you want to win.”
West Noble will play Marion on Saturday at noon at Columbia City High School. The winner will play the winner of Angola and New Castle in the regional final at 8 p.m.