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Tipton's second half surge sinks Panthers

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

FAIRMOUNT — Eastbrook would have been content to end Monday evening’s Class 2A Sectional 39 girls’ basketball championship game at halftime.

Holding a 26-24 lead on 2A ninth-ranked Tipton, the Panthers had put together the type of complete performance to pull off an upset. But then, Tipton’s Kelsey Mitchel took over in the second half and helped deliver the Blue Devils’ second consecutive sectional title.

Mitchell scored 18 of her 24 points in the second half, igniting a big third quarter with a trio of 3-point baskets, and Tipton went on the defeat the Panthers, 61-45. Cassidy Crawford scored 25 points and the two seniors scored all but 12 of the Blue Devils’ points.

The two teams also met in the Sectional 39 final last year with Tipton cruising to a 58-29 victory. This time, the Panthers were in contention until the midway point of the third quarter and let Tipton know it was in a game.

“Most people didn’t give us a snowball’s chance to be in this game,” Panthers coach Jeff Liddick said, “and we were up two at halftime and still had it close midway through the third. But we ran out of gas, and they hit some big shots as the game wore on, and we turned it over more than we needed to and that led to some buckets.”

Mitchel, a 5-foot-5 senior guard, made 7-of-8 attempts in the second half and the one miss was a 3-pointer. Crawford contributed 12 points in the second half and the Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, recruit made 3-of-7 shots and knocked down 6-of-7 free throws.

Eastbrook still led 27-25 when Mitchel knocked down her first 3-pointer for the sixth and final lead change in the game. With Eastbrook trailing 33-29, Mitchel knocked down back-to-back ‘3s’ for a three-possession lead and Tipton went on to take a 43-34 lead going into the fourth quarter.

“She’s shooting over 41 percent for the season (from 3-point range), and it’s a pretty easy call for me to call plays for her,” Tipton coach Chad Wetz said. “And I did it over and over again. I knew they were keying on the inside and trying to clog the lane, and she’s the perfect zone buster. I’ll take her shooting out there any day.”

Tipton would increase its lead to 61-38 before the benches were emptied, and Panthers freshman Johwen McKim scored seven straight points over the final two minutes to make it a more respectable 15-point margin.

“Last year we lost to them by 30, and we cut that in half,” Eastbrook senior Kylie Standfest said. “We were really proud of how we played tonight.

“(Tipton) has a deeper bench than we do ... but we let Crawford and Mitchel get hot and scored 49 out of 61 points,” Standfest added. “We kind of lost them on our defense, which forced us to play man-to-man and that’s not our best defense.”

In the first half, Eastbrook’s half-court zone was packed inside and Tipton made 9-of-34 just 26.5 percent of its shots. While the Panthers struggled against full-court defensive pressure (11 turnovers), Standfest, Joselyn Martinez and Sarah Foulk each hit 3-pointers to maintain a lead.

A Foulk layup gave Eastbrook its biggest lead at 20-16, and Standfest drained a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half and help the Panthers gain the halftime advantage.

“I think we were able to break their press, which gave us a 3-on-2 look at times,” Standfest said. “We were knocking down shots, driving it and forcing them to foul, which was big for us.”

Standfest finished with 15 points and eight rebounds in her final high school game, and Foulk followed with 12 points and three assists. Martinez also played her final game and had seven points and five rebounds.

Eastbrook finished 14-11 which was a five-game improvement over the 2017-18 season. Starter Zoie Ratliff, who had four points, and Ashlyn Standfest are the other senior graduates.

“Not many people around saw us winning 14 games this year and to be in a game like this tonight,” Liddick said. “I definitely think we’re headed in the right direction and something you can attribute to our senior leadership and we’re definitely going to miss them.

“We set a program record this year for 3s attempted and 3s made ... and a big part of that was Joselyn and Kylie,” he added. “We’ll have to find a couple shooters to replace them next year, but I think we’ve got a good group back next year that will make the commitment, and I told them tonight’s game is a great great building block.”

The 6-foot Crawford also grabbed 11 rebounds, passed out four assists and made three steals. Tipton won despite 37.5 percent field goal shooting, but a 33-27 rebounding advantage with 17 on the offensive end helped the Blue Devils get off 24 more shot attempts.

Tipton (20-5) will play Monroe Central (19-5) in the first game of Saturday’s Eastern Regional. Third-ranked Oak Hill (21-3) plays Lafayette Central Catholic (20-6) in the second semifinal.