MERCERVILLE — Melissa Knapp has admitted that she has shed some tears this season — given what’s been an overly trying campaign for her and her Green Lady Bobcats.
On Saturday night, Knapp —along with her husband and assistant coach Dave Knapp — could both be seen becoming emotional, but these were a much-different type of tears let out.
That’s because the ninth-seeded Lady Bobcats, buoyed by an amazing and honestly quite shocking 26 consecutive points — enjoyed, by far, their best night of a truly difficult season, as Green captured a second consecutive Division IV sectional championship with a 59-45 victory over the host South Gallia Lady Rebels.
Inside the gymnasium nicknamed “MercerVegas” at South Gallia High School, the Lady Bobcats simply rolled the dice and went for it —and did it ever pay off.
Trailing 22-17 at the 2:07 mark of the second quarter, Green ended the opening half on an 8-0 run —but that was just the jump-starting point of the Lady Bobcats’ unbelievable blitzkrieg.
Over the next 11 minutes, Green erupted for 26 unanswered points, pitched a third-quarter shutout, and turned that five-point deficit into a 43-22 advantage only 29 seconds into the final quarter.
Eventually, after Brelan Baldridge’s old-fashioned three-point play of a putback basket ballooned the lead to the Lady Bobcats’ largest at 57-32 with 2:20 left, the eighth-seeded Lady Rebels did win the final battle — with a 13-2 run to end the game.
However, Green —unfortunately accustomed to several circumstantial battles this season including three, count ‘em three, coronavirus quarantines —won the war with cutting down BOTH nets on the Lady Rebels’ home floor.
With that, the Lady Bobcats became sectional champions for a second straight season — and the veteran head coach Knapp was seen overcome with emotion, especially as her four seniors were the first of the club to climb the ladders and take the scissors to the nylon.
Believe it or not, Saturday night’s sectional final was Green’s first game since Jan. 30 — a period of three full weeks.
In fact, the Bobcats had only practiced twice since then — including on Friday for the first time in seven days.
With the sectional championship consisting of only their 10th game, and with wicked winter weather and quarantines careening Green’s season sideways, it was an incredibly satisfying moment for Melissa Knapp, Dave Knapp, and everybody associated with the Lady Bobcats’ program.
Green, with the win, raised its record to 7-3.
“Absolutely so satisfying. I really can’t describe it right now. When you can make Dave Knapp cry, because the only time I’ve ever seen my husband cry was when I had my three children, then you’ve done something,” said Melissa Knapp. “For those four seniors, they’ve all lost so much this past year. Winning this sectional championship was their goal. Once we started getting quarantined, we said ‘let’s go win a championship’ and make this thing right. I was balling almost before the game was over. I am actually in shock, not because I didn’t believe in them or that they couldn’t do it, but there were just so many uncertainties coming into the game because of the conditioning. If you noticed, we subbed a lot. We’re usually seven deep max, but I think we played 12 tonight.”
A dozen Lady Bobcats did play, and seven scored, as the all-Southeast District duo of junior Kasey Kimbler and senior Kame Sweeney scored 38 of Green’s 59 points.
Kimbler connected for six field goals including both of the Lady Bobcats’ two three-pointers — none bigger than her deep go-ahead three-ball off the wing which gave Green the lead at 23-22 and only a minute remaining in the first half.
That was the final of six lead changes, as the two teams tied 13-13 only a minute and 10 seconds into the second stanza.
But Kimbler bagging that three, from over 25-feet and approaching 30, truly turned the tide.
Knapp called Kimbler “ironwoman” for never coming out of Saturday’s game.
“Our conditioning, right now, really is poor. But Kasey Kimbler never came out once. She hit that three from 30, and that really gave us the spark we needed,” said the coach. “That three sent us into the locker-room on cloud nine and gave us some confidence in ourselves. I think they needed to know they could do it. From there, we just kept going.”
Prior to Kimbler’s downtown dial-up, Sweeney scored on a putback basket to make it 22-20.
From there, with most of its baskets coming right at the rim off post-entry passes or unboxed stickbacks, Green got on a roll — and it didn’t stop until 26 points later.
“I’m so proud of our post entry. Everybody is going to be keying on Kasey (Kimbler), but to free her up, the ball has to go through the post. Whether it’s Kame (Sweeney) or Anna (Knapp) going up with it, or if they are making the backside pass if Kimbler is coming off a low screen,” said Knapp. “This was our first really successful attempt at accomplishing that (post entry) this year.”
After South Gallia’s Makayla Waugh split a pair of foul shots for the 22-17 lead, the Lady Rebels didn’t score again until Macie Sanders scored just 53 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Sanders scored to stop the Red’s proverbial bleeding, but it was all Green at that point.
Defense does win championships as they say, and the Lady Bobcats buckled down —despite the conditioning issues.
They anticipated passes, ran through the passing lanes, and turned turnovers into layups often times.
“The 26 unanswered speaks volumes to me about how good this team really is and how good our record could have been. But our defense did it tonight,” said Knapp. “I was honestly very concerned about the conditioning as far as the defense goes. South Gallia is very scrappy, and I was concerned about how hard we were going to be able to play defense. But I told the girls it was coming down to how bad did we want it. That’s the best defense we have played all year.”
Kimbler canned a team-high 21 points which included 7-of-8 second-half free throws, and tied Sanders for game-high honors.
Sweeney scored 17 points on eight baskets and a split of second-stanza foul shots, as Anna Knapp netted nine points on four field goals and 1-of-4 freebies.
Both Kimbler and Sweeney scored six points in the third-period onslaught, as Coach Knapp described them as “sisters”.
“Those two are best friends, they read each other’s minds, and they know where the other one is out there all the time,” she said.
Baldridge bucketed three field goals for seven points — as Alex Smith with a fourth-quarter basket, Kim Brown with a pair of fourth-quarter free throws, and Lori Brown with a split of first-quarter tosses rounded out the Lady Bobcats’ scoring.
Sanders scored her 21 for the Lady Rebels on six field goals and 8-of-10 free throws — including 6-of-8 in the fourth quarter.
Tori Triplett tacked on 10 points on four field goals and 2-of-4 foul shots, as South Gallia gained an early 10-3 first-period lead —thanks in part to three-point goals by Sanders and Jessie Rutt.
But the Lady Rebels never made another trifecta from there on, and were actually outscored 56-35 over the final 27 minutes and 27 seconds.
Rutt attempted two third-quarter free throws and missed both, as she also made a fourth-frame basket.
Waugh was 2-of-3 at the line, and Ryleigh Halley had seven points on three field goals and 1-of-3 free throws.
South Gallia, believe it or not, got all 22 of its regularly-scheduled games in — ending the season at 10-13.
However, despite the three stops Green endured this winter — it’s the Lady Bobcats that got the green light to continue playing into the final week of February.
And, as Knapp said, those are tears of joy.
“Our last game that we played was a loss, and a loss at Symmes Valley that we felt should not have happened. That was Jan. 30, and we’ve been sitting around and stewing on that since then because of that third quarantine. The seniors stepped up big time tonight and just wanted to go out with a sectional title,” she said. “We are blessed by this. This is cloud nine for these seniors, and these girls have worked so hard over four years. Due to the circumstances of this season for us and not being able to finish all of our SOC schedule, this is a huge deal. It’s absolutely satisfying.”
Green returns to the road, and returns to Division IV district semifinal action, on Thursday night at top-seeded Notre Dame.
The Lady Titans are winners of 11 consecutive sectional titles, are 21-1, and rolled the Lady Bobcats 69-27 back on Dec. 17 for their 80th consecutive Southern Ohio Conference Division I victory at the time.
Tipoff time is set for 7 p.m. at Notre Dame High School, as once again — only this time as an overwhelming underdog — Green goes for it with nothing to lose.
“We don’t even need to trade film. I think I’ve watched more Notre Dame film this year than my own kids,” said Knapp. “We know each other well, let’s put it that way. We would like to come make a good showing.”
* * *
Green 9 16 14 20 — 59
South Gallia 12 10 0 23 — 45
GREEN 59 (7-3)
Kasey Kimbler 6 7-8 21, Kim Brown 0 2-2 2, Kame Sweeney 8 1-2 17, Charli Blevins 0 0-0 0, Anna Knapp 4 1-4 9, Brelan Baldridge 3 1-1 7, Lori Brown 0 1-2 1, Ally Hensley 0 0-0 0, Alex Smith 1 0-0 2, Kaylee Christian 0 0-0 0, Emily Brady 0 0-0 0, Katelinn Satterfield 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 22 13-19 59; Three-point field goals: 2 (Kasey Kimbler 2)
SOUTH GALLIA 45 (10-13)
Lindsey Wells 0 0-0 0, Tori Triplett 4 2-4 10, Macie Sanders 6 8-10 21, Bella Cochran 0 0-0 0, Jessie Rutt 2 0-2 5, Kennedy Lambert 0 0-0 0, Makayla Waugh 0 2-3 2, Ryleigh Halley 3 1-3 7, Emilee Bowling 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 15 13-22 45; Three-point field goals: 2 (Macie Sanders and Jessie Rutt 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved