COLUMBIA CITY — We have all seen sporting events where a team digs a themselves a big hole to start the game only to come back with a furious rally to win at the end.
Friday night’s class 3A sectional semifinal between the host Columbia City Lady Eagles and the NorthWood Lady Panthers was not that game.
The Panthers ran out to a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter and extended it to 24 points before the Lady Eagles narrowed the gap in the final quarter, but fell for the third straight year to the Panthers, this time by a 63-46 score.
“They have some big-body, hard-to-move kids inside that move well with and without the ball and we did not defend them well,” Columbia City coach Amy Shearer said. “They got whatever they wanted underneath the basket whether we ran a man-defense or a zone.”
NorthWood (14-8) ran out to a big 17-4 lead at the end of the first quarter behind the inside play of five-foot-ten-inch Morgan Olson and six-foot Taylor Olson. The two combined for six first quarter rebounds giving the Panthers several extra offensive opportunities on successive trips down the floor.
NorthWood ran out to a 9-0 lead before the Eagles got on the board with a lay-up by junior Sarah Opliger. A second Opliger lay-up accounted for all the Columbia City points in the first period.
The Lady Eagles (12-10) slowed down the inside game of the Panthers in the second quarter, but the visitors knocked down three shots from behind the arc, including two by Hanna Stump to move out to a 28-10 lead at the half.
Columbia City senior Corinna Raypole, showed a flash of offense for the Eagles in the second quarter scoring two straight baskets on the inside to get the Lady Eagles to double figures before the break.
The Lady Panthers ran out to their biggest lead of the ball game in the third quarter, again going inside against the smaller Lady Eagles with Taylor Olson netting eight points in the quarter.
Raypole continued to put up points for the Lady Eagles hitting for eight points of her own. Opliger and senior Kayla Dunn both added three points each for the Lady Eagles in the third quarter.
With NorthWood leading 48-24 going into the fourth quarter, Columbia City did begin to find some offensive punch. Senior Maddie Hinen connected for two three-pointers and a short jumper to put in eight points in the quarter, while fellow senior Sierria Burlage hit for four of her six points in the period.
Raypole hit for three more of her game-high 15 points in the final stanza.
The Lady Panthers went to the free throw line for 17 shots in the fourth quarter, hitting on 11 and 31 times for the game as opposed to the 11 free throws that the Lady Eagles took.
Outscoring the Panthers, 22-15 in the final quarter the Lady Eagles cut the final margin to 63-46.
Along with Raypole’s 15 points, Opliger added nine and Hinen eight. Raypole also led the Columbia City rebounders with seven boards.
Friday night’s contest marks the third year in a row that the Lady Panthers have eliminated the Lady Eagles from sectional play.
Friday night also marked the final appearance of Lady Eagle seniors Kayla Dunn, Anna O’Dell, Sierria Burlage, Maddie Hinen, and Corinna Raypole.
“Our five seniors have been great leaders all year,” Shearer said. “You can’t judge what they have given to the program by one game, because those kids have been involved since fourth or fifth grade and have put in a lot of hours. I really enjoyed working with them.”