LUCASVILLE — Going into the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division III sectional final at Valley High School, Minford’s Caitlyn Puckett looked at teammate Ashley Blankenship and said, “We’re not losing this game.”
Turns out, Puckett was onto something.
Against a talented North Adams team, the Falcons pulled out a gritty 60-55 win to claim the 18th sectional title in school history … and used a complete team effort to do so.
“We played great. It was a team effort. We had some individual standouts but we played great as a team,” Davis said. “Our seniors’ leadership really stood out in my mind today.”
Those two seniors, Puckett and Blankenship, combined to score 37 points in the victory.
“This wasn’t going to be my our last game,” Puckett said. “That was our mindset going out.”
Alongside Puckett and Blankenship’s big nights, Hannah Tolle continued her ridiculously hot shooting streak. Tolle finished with 13 points and hit big-time shots when it mattered the most.
Take the end of the third quarter for example. With Minford (18-6) leading 38-37, Tolle hit a 3 to beat the buzzer and give her team a 41-37 lead, and a burst of much-needed momentum, going into the fourth.
“I’ve just got to get my head in the game and keep my confidence up,” Tolle said. “That’s what I’ve been doing. This win is a great win for all of us. It pumps us up for the district semifinal.”
Tale of the tape
Tolle scored the game’s first points just nine seconds into the action before Blankenship and Puckett tacked on baskets and free throws, giving Minford an early 8-2 lead.
But the Green Devils (16-8) fought back, cutting the lead to 12-10 heading into the second.
When North Adams’ Mary Sonner scored with 3:40 left in the first half, the Green Devils took their first lead of the night before enjoying a 22-19 edge at halftime.
But coming out of the locker rooms, the Falcons found their stroke.
After being down 33-29 with 4:15 left in the third, Puckett put Minford back in front at 36-35. Tolle then scored with 1:05 left, capping a 9-2 run, and hit her buzzer-beating 3 to make it 41-37.
In the fourth, Blankenship scored at the 6:49 and 6:01 marks, extending the lead to 47-41. Tolle then hit another 3, making it 50-41, and the Falcons hit their free throws down the stretch to place the win under their belts.
“We’re playing well when it matters,” Davis said. “The girls are buying in and, as a team, they don’t care who does what because we won a ballgame.”
Puckett led all scorers with 24 points while Blankenship posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Tolle added 13 points, McKenzie Watters had eight, and Livi Shonkwiler did a bit of everything, scoring two points alongside four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Wylie Shipley led the Green Devils with 14 points, three boards and three assists, Delaney Harper added 12 points to North Adams’ total, and Grace McDowell finished with 10.
What’s on tap
The Falcons advance to a Division III district semifinal at 6:15 p.m Thursday at Waverly’s Downtown Gym, where they’ll face top-seeded Alexander.
“Alexander is a tough team and they’re going to get after us,” Davis said. “I know they’re physical and their guard play is phenomenal. So we’re going to have to have the same type of effort as we did today, and maybe a little bit of luck.”
Minford: 12-7-22-19 — 60
North Adams: 10-12-15-18 — 55
Minford: 22-48 FG, 14-23 FT, 2-6 3pt., 27 rebounds (Blankenship 11), 18 turnovers, 10 assists (Shonkwiler 4). Scoring: Puckett 24, Tolle 13, Blankenship 13, Watters 8, Shonkwiler 2.
North Adams: 16-48 FG, 16-21 FT, 7-15 3pt., 20 rebounds (Jones 5), 17 turnovers, 8 assists (Shipley 3, Jones 3). Scoring: Shipley 15, Harper 12, McDowell 10, Sonner 4, Jones 4, Ruttelwerth 4, Call 3.