By Gary R. Rasberry
LEXINGTON -- Coldwater played its usual aggressive and stingy defense, but unfortunately, the Cavaliers are unable to defend free throws.
Margaretta used solid free-throw shooting in the final minute of the game to end the Cavaliers' dream season with a 38-33 defeat in the Division III regional final at Lexington High School.
The Lady Bears (24-1) advance to the state semifinals on Thursday at 8 p.m. against Plain City Jonathan Alter at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. The Lady Cavs, playing in their first regional since the 1999-2000 season, ends a stellar campaign at 19-6.
The pace was slow with Coldwater leading 16-13 at the half and the Cavs still held a two-point edge, at just 24-22, going into the fourth quarter.
"We thought we would be better off if we were in a halfcourt style or set," said Cavaliers coach Nick Fisher. "We've played defense all year, that's something we've hung our hat on. I thought if we kept it tight, we'd be all right." The battle was a close matchup throughout the game as five points was the largest point margin for either team. Coldwater led 18-13 shortly after the start of the third quarter, only to have Margaretta -- which scored only two points in the final 9:11 of the first half and did not score until the 6:02 mark of the third quarter -- come back to tie it midway through the quarter. In the second half, the teams were tied five times.
The key for the success of the Cavaliers was shutting down Margaretta's key scorer Michele "Micki" Kuns. The Division III 2006 District Player of the Year and 2005 All-Ohio honoree was held to just three points in the first three quarters.
While Kuns was under wraps, other Bears stepped up as Cayla Keegan came up with 11 points in the game and Brittany Morris added eight points.
With 4:17 left in the game, Coldwater's Renee Hemmelgarn scored to tie the game at 28-all. That would be the last tie of the game as Kuns quickly put the Bears up 31-28 with her second three-pointer of the game. Tasha Stucke got the Cavaliers to within one with 3:23 to go with a jumper.
Both teams turned the ball over on their next possessions and Margaretta missed its next shot attempt. Coldwater came down to try and take the lead. Stucke's shot attempt was off, but rebounded by Amber Heyne. Heyne went in for the bunny but Kuns, playing with three fouls, swung around for the block and got the rebound. Margaretta called a timeout with 61 seconds left to set up the final scenario.
"That's obviously not the way I tell them to block," said Margaretta coach Tim Tucker with a smile. "You could hear me on the sidelines saying 'Please don't do that.' She listens to me in some situations, but that's one we haven't broke her of yet. We still have a week. That was a turning point."
Coldwater was forced to foul to get the ball back. Tucker looked to put the ball in the hands of Kuns. In the last 47.3 seconds, Kuns went to the line eight times, making her first seven tries. The first time put Margaretta up 33-30. Coldwater came down looking to score, but Kuns tipped the ball away down low and came up with the steal, getting fouled again with 30.6 seconds. After two more makes, Jessica Bettinger drained a triple to get the Cavs to within two points with 14.3 seconds left in the game.
After a Cavalier timeout, Kuns was fouled again and made both free throws before Hemmelgarn missed a three-pointer with the rebound going to Kuns with 1.5 seconds left and was fouled. Kuns put the game away by making one-of-two to end it.
"It was nerve-racking to get up there in a close game," said Kuns. "I just looked at coach Borchardt (assistant coach Gary Borchardt) and he calms me down. We work hard at it in practice and I was getting frustrated because I had an off-day. Lucky I was saving them for the ballgame."
The Cavaliers turned the ball over 14 times, including three key times in the fourth quarter.
"I thought (it was) costly turnovers down the stretch, they were unforced," said Fisher. "It's part of it.
"I think they (Margaretta) cranked it up a little bit. I thought we rushed ourselves a little bit more than we had earlier in the game. They mixed it up with a halfcourt 1-3-1 or 3-2. They did a good job, once we got past the press, getting back and keeping us out and away from the bucket. I don't think our post got a lot of touches in the fourth quarter."
"To play a team that plays from a great conference, some people as soon as you see the name of the conference they're from, they say 'Oh, God, they're good at everything. How are we going to do against them.,'" said Tucker. "I think even some of the girls heard it in school yesterday. We've learned we can play and win with defense and bought into that."
Kuns scored 10 points in the final 3:52 of the game and finished with 13 points.
"I thought Jess Bettinger did a whale of a job on her all night," said Fisher of the defense on Kuns. "She's a whale of a player. Most of her points came at the end at the foul line. I would have put the ball in her hands, too."
"They're a tough defensive team," said Kuns of Coldwater. "But you can't stop one person and expect to win the game."
Kendra Robbins wrapped up her fine junior season for the Cavaliers with a team-high 13 points, but had just four points in the final half. Heyne completed her senior season with seven points.
"It's like (OHSAA Assistant Commissioner) John Dickerson (who presented the trophies) said, there was 198 teams in this division," said Fisher. "To be in the last eight is just a great credit to the kids. They worked extremely hard all year. They deserved to be here and left it on the floor tonight."