With Southridge clinging to a two-point lead over Grant with 19.9 seconds left, senior Kaelin Immel stepped to the free-throw line knowing that all the work she put into her high school career, and especially into the banner season her team has had, had led to that moment.
She calmly made the first attempt, and after a timeout, made the second, helping the top-seeded Skyhawks hang on for a 36-34 victory in a semifinal of the OSAA Class 6A girls basketball tournament Friday at the Chiles Center.
“Honestly, I was just thinking about how much I wanted to win,” Immel said. “I’ve been gunning for this my whole high school career, this whole season. All of us have. I knew everyone was supporting me, and I just wanted to do that for our team.”
The Skyhawks (26-2) advanced to Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. final in which they will try to win the sixth state title in program history, and first since 2010.
Southridge got all it could handle from fourth-seeded Grant (25-3). After shooting 60.4 percent from the field in their 82-42 quarterfinal win over St. Mary’s Academy on Thursday, the Skyhawks struggled to make shots against the Generals, whose athleticism and physical play gave Southridge all it could handle.
“It was very intense,” Skyhawks freshman center Cameron Brink said. “Grant is a phenomenal team, and I feel like it was a physical and intense game.”
Southridge junior Maggie Freeman led all scorers with 12 points, and the 6-4 Brink was her usual force inside, getting eight points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Brink remained a force even though she flirted with foul trouble all game, including picking up her third with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
“I’m really proud of her because she did exactly what she needs to do, and that’s wall up and not jump,” Southridge coach Michael Bergmann said. “She jumped a few times, but the great thing about her is she’ll affect the shot, and they’ll start taking bad shots, which is better than a blocked shot anyway.”
Grant stayed in the game despite a difficult shooting night in which it finished 14 for 55 from the field. The Generals’ leading scorers, senior Nina Radford and sophomore Daryn Hickok, were a combined 7 for 31 against the Skyhawks.
“Their defense is good,” Grant coach Kendra Gardner said. “Hats off to them.”
With Southridge nursing a late lead, Radford made a three-pointer with 1:39 left to cut Grant’s deficit to 33-29. Hickok then scored at the rim and was fouled, but took a hard fall that kept her on the floor for several minutes. She had to leave the game, and junior Paige Ball-Strickland took the free throw and missed.
After that, Immel made her free throws and junior Natalie Hoff made 1 of 2 for Southridge to close out the win. The Skyhawks celebrated, but they know the job is not done.
“It’s not over, it’s definitely not over,” Immel said. “One more game, then after that, we can be satisfied or we can walk away and know that we gave it our all.”
The Generals, who will play in the third-place game at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, are in the state tournament for the first time since 1989 following a banner season in which they won the PIL title.
“I’m really proud of my girls,” Gardner said. “They played so hard, they never gave up. It was extremely frustrating at times, and we shot very, very poorly from the field, but for them to overcome that and still be there at the very end, that makes a coach really proud.”