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Giants top Bellmont, 46-44 for Sectional 23 crown

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Marion’s Jazmyn Turner (3) and Markeisha Jackson surround Bellmont’s Grace Hunter during the second half of the Giants’ dramatic 46-44 win in the Class 3A Sectional 23 championship game Monday night at Norwell. The Giants will face West Noble at noon Saturday in the Columbia City Regional.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

OSSIAN — Heroes were plenty for the Marion girls basketball team Monday night in Norwell High School.

And every single one had a hand in the No. 11 Giants winning Class 3A Sectional 23 for the second consecutive season with a 46-44 win over No. 3 Bellmont (21-3).

Senior Markeisha Jackson didn’t score a point, but spent most of her time on the floor hounding Bellmont’s leading scorer Grace Hunter. Jackson wasn’t alone in defending the 20-plus point per game scorer, and collectively the Giants made Hunter work for all of her game-high 18 points.

Just two came in the fourth quarter when Hunter was 0-for-4 from the field and couldn’t get a touch as Bellmont had the final possession under the Giants basket with 4.8 seconds to play with a chance to tie or win.

Ayana Harvey scored six points for the Giants and partially blocked Kenzie McMahon’s layup attempt after the Squaws inbounded the ball.

Morgan Shifferly grabbed the offensive rebound but Jackson swooped across the lane and partially blocked another shot.

The ball found its way into Emma Keane’s hands but her last-gasp shot was met the long arms of RaShaya Kyle who blocked her third shot of the game just before the clock expired to preserve the two-point win and set off a wild celebration by the Giants.

Kyle, as has been the case all season, faced a constant double team by Bellmont’s zone when she didn’t have the ball and had to deal with even more Sqauw defenders when she did have. Still she scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter to help the Giants erase a 27-19 halftime deficit.

“I talked to the girls about the game is 32 minutes not 16 minutes,” said Giants coach Lawrence Jordan about his halftime talk. “ Just because we fell down I still felt like we were playing okay. There were a couple of times Grace got free and we didn’t want that because she is very talented, but we didn’t panic.

“We kept calm, I told the girls to keep fighting, keep fighting” he added. “Momentum changed, RaShaya got two good baskets in transition then down the stretch we finished and made great plays.

The Giants started the second half with an 8-0 run to tie it at 27 just more than three minutes into the third quarter with four points coming from Kyle on pullup jumpers after Bellmont turnovers.

Bellmont answered with a 7-0 run and led 36-30 when Kyle scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 36-34 with 1:01 left.

The Squaws worked the clock down inside of 10 seconds when Hunter made a long three and give her team a big jolt of momentum along with its 39-34 lead.

But it was short lived as Marion inbounded the ball to Olivia Aguilar, who dribbled across half court and launched a three from beyond the top of the key. The ball banked off the glass, bounded up off the front of the rim and fell through the net as time expired to trim Bellmont’s advantage to 39-37.

Aguilar then hit another three just 12 seconds into the fourth quarter to give Marion its first lead of the game at 40-39.

“They were leaving her open and O’s been working on her shot in practice,” Kyle said. “Being able to shoot wide open jumpers, she hit some really clutch jumpers we needed to put us up.

“It’s really important because a lot of the time there is three people on me and she just opens it up for us,” Kyle added.

The game was then tied at 40, after a McMahon free throw, at 42-42 after Jazmyn Turner scored on Kyle’s assist and Bellmont answered when Shifferly scored on McMahon’s feed with 5:12 to play.

It was then Turner knocking down her only three-pointer of the night less than 20 seconds later to put the Giants on top 45-42.

Ellie Vermilion came up with her second of three steals of the night and was fouled on a layup attempt, knocking down 1-of-2 free throws to extend Marion’s lead to 46-42, its largest of the game, with 3:01 to play.

Hunter was fouled and scored the final two points of her career on a pair of free throws with 2:40 to play, and that’s where the scoring ended for both teams.

Marion had four turnovers in the final couple minutes, but none were too costly. The Giants also forced the Squaws into two of their five fourth-quarter errors and successfully ran precious time off the clock with each possession late in the game.

After making 6-of-9 field goal attempts in the first quarter and leading 13-10 after one, Bellmont was 11-of-37 over the final three quarters, including 1-for-10 in the last eight minutes.

Marion shot 4-of-12 in the opening eight minutes, then hit 15-of-26 in the final three quarters, including 8-of-13 in making its comeback in the third quarter.

The Giants finished 7-of-13 from three-point range. All four of Aguilar’s field goals were from long range and the sophomore led Marion with a career-high 12 points.

“I was thinking I needed to come off the bench and put up a couple shots for the team,” Aguilar said. “We was trailing big the first quarter so I was glad I could do that for them.”

Turner finished with 11 points, one triple, and corralled seven rebounds. Vermilion added seven points and knocked down two from long distance.

“RaShaya and Jazmyn get all the credit but other people do things that don’t always show up in the scorebook,” Jordan said. “Those are the times Markeisha, Ayana and Ellie, they’ve done it all season. They do things that don’t show up in the scorebook but they’re a huge part of our team. You can’t do it with just two people.”

The win was the 12th straight for Marion (21-4) and up next is a date with West Noble (19-5) in the Columbia City Regional at noon. New Castle meets Angola at 10 a.m.

“We’re not done. We feel like we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Jordan said. We feel like we’ve got a legitimate shot, we feel like we’ve got one of the strongest teams in this area and we’re going up there to win the regional.”