MARIETTA — Jessica Smith didn’t let the nerves get to her.
Standing at the free throw line with the game tied and just sixth-tenths of a second on the clock, the Marietta senior took a deep breath.
“I was really nervous,” Smith said. “My teammate Morgan (Altenburger) came up to me and she was like ‘You just have to make one. You’ve got it.’ I looked in the stands and I knew I didn’t want it to go into overtime. I just took my time, I shot the ball and it went in.”
That foul shot gave Marietta a 49-48 victory over Lake in the sectional semifinals Saturday at Sutton Gym. The Tigers, who improved to 13-9, will travel to North Canton Hoover Thursday for the sectional championship.
The victory was the first tournament win for Marietta’s senior class, as well as head coach Allen Ruth.
“It was nice to get that first (tournament) win,” said Altenburger, who led Marietta with 20 points. “We want to cut down the nets next game.”
Smith finished with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. She was just 3 for 7 from the free throw line, but made the one that mattered most.
Lake’s Ellie Begue scored a game-high 26 points and was a perfect 7 for 7 from the the 3-point line.
Her seventh trey came with 6.2 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 48-all.
“We were up three and everybody in the gym knew who was going to take that shot for them,” Ruth said of Begue.
“We got caught on a screen, which we were supposed to switch, and she hit it. They came over and didn’t wobble at all. We knew what we were going to do.”
Smith took the ensuing inbound pass and drove all the way to the basket, drawing the foul that led to the game-winning freebie.
“We told her to just get to the rim, and she did,” Ruth said. “She knocked the foul shot down, so that was big. They played hard. Hats off to Lake. That’s a good team. I was really proud of our players.”
The Tigers were down 18-8 after the first quarter and 25-18 at halftime. They trailed by double digits on four separate occasions, and by as many as 11 in the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3s by Begue put the Blue Streaks (5-15) ahead 31-20 at the 3:50 mark in the third.
“She’s had an up and down year,” Lake head coach Brian DeLap said of Begue.
“When she’s on, she’s on. That was good for her to just have a great game and finish up. She hit that shot at the end to tie it and make it look like we had a chance to go to overtime. Unfortunately we didn’t.”
Jennifer Smith assisted Altenburger on a 3-pointer with 1:59 left in the third. The Tigers closed the quarter on 7-0 run, getting a three-point play from Jessica Smith followed by back-to-back baskets by Aysia Burke and Altenburger in the final 10 seconds, to get within three, 35-32.
Altenburger traded baskets with Lake’s Kiley Dyrlund to open the fourth quarter before Adi Hill’s 3-pointer tied the game for the first time since the first period.
At the 6:25 mark, Jessica Smith’s jumper gave Marietta a 39-37 lead. Begue quickly responded with a stepback 3 to put Lake back on top, but Rylee Kendall knocked down 1 of 2 at the line to knot the score at 40-all.
Marietta trailed 45-40 with 2:05 left in the game after a 5-0 Lake run, but Jennifer Smith and Altenburger both made a pair of foul shots to get within one.
Marietta then got big contributions from three of its freshmen in the final minutes.
When senior Adi Hill fouled out with 2:06 left in the game, Kenzley Urban checked in for the first time and played solid defense. With 55 seconds remaining, Julia Tucker put a shot off the glass and in to put Marietta up one. Lake’s Wendy Tobin was fouled on the other end but missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Aysia Burke grabbed the rebound for the Tigers and was fouled, sinking both shots at the line to make it 48-45 before Begue’s game-tying 3.
“We got down early and they didn’t give up,” Ruth said.
“There were a lot of plays that contributed to this win.”
Altenburger was a perfect 8 for 8 at the free throw line in the game, and while she led MHS in scoring, it was her performance on the other end that stood out to Ruth.
“I think the defensive job Morgan did on the floor to me was more important than her 20 points,” he said. “The 20 points helps, don’t get me wrong, but I thought she did a really good job on both ends.”
Hill added six points while Kendall and Burke had four apiece. Burke also grabbed a team-high six rebounds.
Dyrlund fouled out with just under two minutes to go in the game. She finished with four points, a game-high nine boards and a team-high three assists for the Blue Streaks. Altenburger guarded her most of the game.
“During practice we focused on (Dyrlund) and how she drove to the basket,” Altenburger said. “I felt like I did a really good job on her and didn’t let her penetrate like she wanted to and I tried to make her shoot from outside.”
Serenitee Johnson chipped in six points and three steals for Lake.
“Marietta has those four seniors and they played hard,” DeLap said. “They got down and they could’ve packed it in but they just kept coming at us, which we knew they would. That’s what happens when you don’t give up.”
Being a very small school by Division I standards, the Marietta girls have struggled in the postseason tournament in recent years, making Saturday’s triumph even sweeter.
“That was one of our goals was to go win a tournament game especially being as small of a school as we are being in Division I,” Ruth said. “It feels good that we got to accomplish it.”
Added Jessica Smith, “It means a lot. When we first started with this program, it wasn’t that great. We just want to leave it good for the players coming up. That win, that’s like setting a goal. That’s giving them something to work for and achieve. We just want to make the program better than what it was and I think we’re doing a good job of that.”
Jordan Holland can be reached at email@example.com.