DEFIANCE, Ohio – It was a thrilling way to end the 2013-14 campaign for the DC women's basketball team, as it came from behind to defeat the Franklin Grizzlies 62-60 on senior day in the Karl H. Weaner Center on Saturday, February 22. [Video Highlights]
With the victory, Defiance (11-14, 8-10 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) earned a season sweep of Franklin (13-12, 11-7 HCAC) for the first time since the Purple and Gold joined the Heartland Conference in 2000.
The Yellow Jackets needed a victory in this contest to keep its HCAC Tournament hopes alive, but the Rose-Hulman Engineers came through with a win at Mount. St. Joseph to seal their ticket to the tourney and add one more game to their season. RHIT's victory prevented Defiance from making the conference tournament for the fifth-consecutive season.
However, the disappointment of not being able to continue the season couldn't take away from the outstanding performance that DC gave in the final game for its five seniors in Ashley Birchmeier (Vaughnsville, Ohio / Columbus Grove), Erica King (Wauseon, Ohio / Pettisville), Maggie Neanen (Eaton, Ohio / Eaton), Kim Bingley (Ottawa, Ohio / Ottawa-Glandorf) and Hannah Harshman (Ohio City, Ohio / Parkway).
In a tribute to the five Yellow Jackets who have given four-years of hard work and dedication to the Purple and Gold women's basketball program, head coach Jessica (Cox) Morris started each of them for the final collegiate contest of their careers.
After the seniors were announced and congratulated on their time with Defiance, action finally got under way. Through the first three minutes of play things were looking good for DC, as a jumper in the paint by Birchmeier gave it a 7-6 lead.
But things quickly turned in favor of the Grizzlies, as they ran off 13-straight points to go on top 19-7 with 12:52 remaining in the first period.
However, this Lady Jackets team was not going to lay down this early on senior day and slowly Defiance began to chip away at the deficit. With just under four and a half minutes on the clock, the Purple and Gold had cut the Franklin lead down to 28-23 and continued to fight.
Bingley connected on a jump shot at the 1:38 mark to leave DC only trailing by one at 31-30. FC was able to score the final two buckets of the period and take a 35-30 lead into the break, but the big run by the Jackets had given the home team all the momentum and it only continued into the second half.
With a lot on the line, Coach Cox stuck with her senior starters to open up the second half and it paid off. Defiance came out of the gates with a 12-0 run in the first six minutes of the period to reverse the tables on the Grizzlies and put the Purple and Gold back on top 42-35. King scored seven of the 12 points in the stretch on a pair of jumpers and a triple.
Everything was pointing at DC running away with the game, but FC quickly fired back with a 6-0 spurt in the next two minutes to trim the Yellow Jackets advantage to 42-41.
The score remained tight over the next few minutes of play, but the Purple and Gold found another scoring surge in their tank and put together a 10-0 run in a stretch of just under three minutes to hold a 55-46 lead with 6:20 left on the clock.
Once again Defiance seemed to have the victory in its grasp, but this Franklin squad had one last push in them. With just 36 seconds remaining in the contest, the Grizzlies had clawed their way back to tie the game at 60-60.
The setting was set for a fantastic finish between the two HCAC foes just as it had been in the first meeting. Erica King drained a triple on DC's final possession to defeat FC on the road the first time around, but it was time for another Jacket and future senior to step up in the clutch.
With 16 ticks remaining in regulation, Megan Zachrich (Napoleon, Ohio / Napoleon) found a lane to the basket and notched a layup to give the Purple and Gold a 62-60 lead. Franklin then came up empty in its final two attempts to tie the game and the Purple and Gold women's basketball team joined together to celebrate the big win over the Grizzlies.
"Today's games was awesome in so many ways," said Coach Cox after the game. "The seniors played really well and truly put us in a position to win. I'm thankful to have been able to coach these seniors and so proud of how we finished the season. It had its ups and downs, but at the end when we had no choice but to find a way to win we did. I'm sad to see them go, but I wish them the absolute best of luck in the future."
From the shooting percentages in the contest it would have seemed that Franklin would have come away with an easy victory. FC finished 25-of-48 (52.1 percent) from the field and 7-of-13 (53.8) from behind the arc, while DC shot 23-of-63 (36.5) and 5-of-14 (35.7), respectively.
But the Lady Jackets were able to do what opponents have been doing to them all season long. Defiance protected the ball and hit the offensive glass hard to create more opportunities at the net. The Purple and Gold turned the ball over a season-low eight times against the Grizzlies, while forcing the visitors into 20 turnovers.
DC then dominated on the offensive glass, as it racked up 21 offensive rebounds that was its second-highest total this season. Those two factors led to the Yellow Jackets taking 15 more looks at the rim and having 13 more attempts from the charity stripe, which were just enough to push Defiance to the senior day victory.
Leading the Purple and Gold in scoring and rebounding on the night was Kelsey Tietje (Deshler, Ohio / Patrick Henry). The standout freshman center concluded her first year with DC by notching 16 points and 8 boards in 21 minutes off the bench. Tietje should be in the running for HCAC freshman of the year, as well as a possible freshman All-American nomination, after averaging 16.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game in her first collegiate season.
King was next in line for the Lady Jackets, as the senior guard scored 12 points in her final game. King's performance jumped her into 11th place on the DC women's basketball all-time scoring list, as she concludes her career with 1,186 points. The Wauseon, Ohio native also leaves the Purple and Gold program as its career leader in three-point field goal makes (225) and three-point field goal attempts (609).
Seniors Bingley and Birchmeier also made big contributions in the win. Each scored eight points on the night, while Bingley notched seven rebounds and two steals and Birchmeier came through with three boards, three steals and went 2-of-3 from three point land. For the hero of the night in Zachrich, the soon to be senior added nine points, three rebounds and three steals.