Watching 32 minutes of Angola and Garrett battle it out for a sectional championship on Saturday night was quite the experience for Bounce.
Yes, it was exciting, with the Hornets capturing their third-ever sectional title with a 40-36 victory.
But it was also chaotic, frenzied and intense.
When Morgan Ostrowski’s bucket at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter put Garrett ahead by two, it appeared that the Railroaders, even without the fouled-out Bailey Kelham, may have the edge in pulling out the program’s second-straight sectional crown.
But as is so often the case in clutch moments, particularly in the playoffs, the most experienced, savviest, assertive player on the floor took over.
When this season concludes, Hanna Knoll will have etched her spot into Angola history as the program’s all-time leading scorer. But scoring wasn’t necessarily what she did a lot of in the fourth. She scored four of her game-high 16 points in the final 4:44, but it was her confidence and calm demeanor that was the true difference for the Hornets.
As Garrett struggled to find a soothing influence on the floor, lacking an experienced senior who could take control, Angola had its answer in Knoll.
The Hornets trusted Knoll with the ball in the half-court, to control the ball as Garrett tried to pressure Angola into a turnover over the final few minutes with the game in the balance. Instead, Knoll was able to work clock, get to the free throw line and avoid a costly mistake that could have swung the outcome the other way.
“That’s Hanna Knoll, you know?” said Angola coach Nick Burlingame, fighting back tears during the post-game celebration. “She is the best, she really is. There is a reason why she is our all-time leading scorer. There is a reason why she is going to play Division I basketball (at Central Michigan). When the going gets tough, it is nice to have a player like her who steps up and does a little bit of everything for us.”
While Angola’s win was by no means an individual effort, Knoll’s poise late was contagious. Riley Pepple’s bucket with 2:37 to go put the Hornets up to stay. While the Railroaders (20-3) went cold from the field, they furiously attempted to force a mistake. But Knoll and Angola stayed in control, forcing Garrett to foul, where the Hornets were able to put the game out of reach over the final few minutes.
With freshmen like Pepple and Kylie Caswell on the floor with the game in the balance, Knoll stood out as the floor leader who could handle the moment.
“Everything up to this point and what I have gone through has just put me in that leadership position and I felt comfortable,” Knoll said. “I wanted my team to be comfortable too and I knew that they would respond based on how I acted.”
Angola had to respond well before the final few minutes of the game. After taking a quick 10-2 lead, the Hornets were outscored 18-0 by Garrett and found themselves trailing by double digits. Yet the halftime deficit was just two after a late run towards the break.
In the end, the teams traded blows, but the edge went to the squad that had a closer in Knoll.
“You had two really good basketball teams here,” Burlingame said. “Our girls have been battle-tested all year. We played Carroll. We played Homestead. You play those teams for a reason – so when you get into situations like this when they go on an 18-0 run in the first half, there was no quit in our girls. They responded exactly the way I expected them to, the way I knew they would. That’s just what we do.”
Angola (19-5) advances to the Bellmont Regional, where it will take on Norwell (21-5) in the first Saturday semifinal at 10 a.m. The winner will take on either Benton Central (14-3) or Hamilton Heights (18-1) in the championship in the evening.
These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH