A conference title has eluded the grasp of the Cedarville girls basketball team the past 39 seasons. But Saturday afternoon against the Southeastern Trojans, the Indians came up clutch.
Junior Ise Bolender hit all four of her free throws in the final 17 seconds, and both Bolender and senior Hayley Melton grabbed a half dozen defensive rebounds in the final three minutes to help Cedarville hold on for a 57-52 victory at Southeastern. This meeting was every bit the battle of the teams’ last meeting, a 58-53 double-overtime victory by Southeastern on Dec. 10.
Cedarville (15-3 overall, 10-2 Ohio Heritage Conference) can clinch the title outright — its first since 1978 — with a victory against Madison Plains on Thursday.
“It feels amazing considering how hard we’ve worked from last spring. It feels incredible,” Bolender said. “To be able to prove it and put digits on the banner, it’s a great feeling.”
Southeastern (14-5, 7-4) needed a Senior Day win to keep its bid for an 18th league championship alive and came out playing like it. The Trojans scored 16 of the first 21 points and led 27-14 after the first quarter behind seniors Maddie McKee, Jessica Erwin and sophomore Leslie Flores.
Cedarville, which has become accustomed to playing from behind, rallied in the second quarter to outscore Southeastern 19-6 and tie the game at halftime.
Seven lead changes and four ties later, the teams were tied 51-51 with 3:13 to play. Melton gave the Indians the lead for good (53-51) with two free throws with 2:58 left. With each shot contested, the score remained that way until Southeastern senior Jessica Erwin hit one of two free throws with 19 seconds left. Bolender then closed it out with her final four points on free throws with 17 and 0.6 seconds left.
“As good as we were defensively the last three minutes, you have to put the ball in the bucket at some point,” Southeastern coach P.J. Bertemes said. “We had some shots we wanted but it wasn’t to be.
“I feel bad for our four seniors. They wanted this. We had a chance to stay a part of the league competition. We’ll move on and we’re looking forward to next week and the tournament after that.”
McKee led Southeastern with 17 points. Erwin added 16 and Flores 14.
Erwin had 13 of her points in the first half before Cedarville’s defense clamped down on her.
“You’re not going to stop Erwin from scoring,” Cedarville coach Josh Mason said. “She’s one of the best players in the conference if not the area. But I think we took her out of her rhythm.”
Melton led Cedarville with 18 points, one shy of giving her 1,000 for her career. Bolender, who surpassed 1,000 points earlier this season, finished with 15. Sophomore Maggie Coe chipped in eight points and seniors McKayla Lee and Kyla Harding added seven each.
Once the Indians survived the Trojans’ flurry of points in the first quarter, they started chipping away at the deficit. Trailing by double-digit deficits a handful of times this season helped Cedarville’s players stay calm.
“They’re a good team and have some really good players. We knew we had to shut them down,” Melton said. “We knew we had to keep pushing through it.
“We really wanted conference digits (on the banner). Now we’re going after district. That’s our team goal and we really want it.”