GARRETT – It was no secret that Angola was the favorite in the NECC from day one of this season. They had the target on their back long before they walked into Garrett’s gym on Saturday for the NECC Tournament final. With one of the best records in Northeast Indiana, all eyes and heavy expectations were on the Hornets.
But when Angola got pushed, they showed up at the right moments. Ally Lorntz’s free throws with three seconds left Friday pushed them through the semi final round. Lorntz showed up again on Saturday, but with plenty of help, to rally by Fairfield 61-52, and claim a NECC Tournament title.
It is Angola’s ninth NECC Tournament title overall and their fifth in the last nine seasons.
“That was something that I was worried about coming in,” Angola coach Brandon Appleton said. “I wanted to see what happened when things got tough and I couldn’t say more about this senior group and how they always seem to answer the call. They don’t get too worried about the moment and a lot of it has to do with their leader Ally Lorntz and how she plays.”
Fairfield grabbed a quick second quarter lead on a Kara Kitson basket and really seemed to be handling the Angola pressure well throughout the early portion of the game in finding shots at or near the rim. Kitson buried another three with 6:17 left to play in the opening half after Angola had stolen the lead away on Hanna Knoll’s third triple of the game
A frantic scramble of possessions led to Ally Lorntz knocking down a triple with 3:16 left in the first half to give Angola a 21-18 lead. It was the first time in the game that the Hornets defense in the full court really started to give Fairfield issues. Yet, the Falcons were also chipping back with steals and blocks and neither team was able to gain much of a traction in the process.
Just as the Hornets looked to have momentum heading into the half after a Knoll putback, Fairfield fired back in the hands of freshman Brea Garber. With the clock ticking down and Fairfield frantically looking to find a way to get a final shot before the half, Garber turned around to get off an off balance three that she banked in to give Fairfield life and a 27-25 halftime lead.
It gave way to some serious half time conversations.
“You walk in and say ‘hey girls, she hit a lucky shot.’ She banked it in from 20 feet. That’s fine, now you just have to go win the second half,” Appleton said. “Credit to our girls, we won the third quarter. One step at a time, don’t let the moment get to you because it’s still the same 84 feet.”
Angola ramped up their full court pressure in the third but Fairfield kept exploiting holes, finding and open player back deep against what was essentially a 3-1-1 press because of the Angola trapping in the backcourt. Yet the quarter really came down to who gave the other team too much space on or near the perimeter with threes exchanged and Knoll consistently being to knock down threes from the right corner of the court. Knoll’s assertiveness rose during the quarter, taking the ball at the rim and being willing to shoot the three ball with confidence.
With a tie game headed into the fourth, those halftime conversations were only intensified to try and break the 38-38 stalemate with eight minutes left.
Lauren Leach had the first look in the fourth but Angola struggled to make good inside. Instead, Fairfield broke the tie with an and-one at the rim from freshman Bailey Willard, firing up the Fairfield faithful with a three point lead. With 5:17 left, Knoll skip passed the ball to Lorntz who tied the game at 41 before Danielle Dunham hit a triple of her own on the next Hornet possession to give Angola back the lead in the seesaw quarter. Lorntz again was the hot hand at 4:22 when she opted out of the offense to pull up with a three on a defender to put Angola up 47-43.
The second half really showcased Angola’s under discussed depth.
“Danielle coming off the bench as a sophomore, getting in here in big moments is absolutely huge for her confidence moving forward, same with Megan Nisun,” Appleton said of some of Angola’s depth in the game.
“Having Kayla Fenstermaker come back from injury tonight and being to provide that glue, that stickiness that we need. Without it, I don’t know where we’d be right now.”
With 1:53 left, Kitson struck again, found on the baseline by a critical pass that pulled Fairfield back within four, but Angola stayed patient and willing to move the ball against the Falcon zone to wait for the the perfect shot. Fairfield took their chances, but when Fenstermaker stole the ball under the Fairfield basket for the Hornets at the one minute mark, things were about wrapped up for Angola. Lorntz helped seal things at the free throw line off the steal to go up 57-47.
“We’ve been having a lot of conversations with her lately about how we want her to step up more as a leader,” Appleton said of Lorntz. “Just be that person this group needs to bring us together. I’ve told her for four years, ‘we are going to go as far as you can push us,’ and tonight, she’s shown us what she is capable of.”
Knoll led all scorers with 22 while Lorntz added 20 and seven assists. Fairfield was led by Kitson’s 14, 15 from Willard and 12 from Garber.