Fifteen feet away. Not a soul in front of you when you shoot free throws.
Bottom line, make them you win and miss them you lose.
Despite shooting just 25 percent from the field and committing 24 turnovers, Eric Oakes’ Swanton Bulldogs got nearly every rebound and loose ball in the fourth quarter, and made 10 of 14 free throws to score a come from behind 41-36 win over Eastwood, giving Swanton their first Division III sectional title in 10 years Saturday afternoon.
“I’m very excited for the girls,” said a hoarse Oakes after the game. “It’s been hard work all year long. The season’s not over but this is definitely one we wanted to get to go along with the improvement we’ve made during the regular season.”
In a plodding, almost standstill first quarter, it was Eastwood who got on top early as freshman Jamie Schmeltz and Sydnie Abke combined for all nine Eagle points in an early 9-2 run.
The Bulldogs finally scored from the floor as Sidney Taylor scored on a feed from Haley Nelson to help chop that Eagles’ advantage to 9-7 at the quarter.
Taylor’s triple with 4:50 left in the half gave Swanton their first lead at 12-11, but Hannah Limes hit a baseline jumper to tie the score and Schmeltz, who hit just 1 of 5 from the line in the quarter, got that one free throw reclaiming a 14-13 Eastwood lead.
Cydney Christensen hit another Bulldog three-ball with 1:11 left in the half to bump Swanton back on top at halftime despite 14 first half turnovers.
That was mostly because the Bulldogs took advantage of Eastwood’s 2 of 8 shooting from the foul stripe and 6 for 21 effort from the field.
After Limes’ triple gave Eastwood a 17-16 lead 90 seconds into the third, Abby Arnold came off the bench to knock down a wing jumper to put Swanton back on top with 3:12 left.
However, that was the only Bulldog field goal of the stanza and while Swanton was going 1 for 11, Eastwood took advantage as Abke and Schmeltz hit inside to help Eastwood go up 24-21 heading into the last eight minutes.
Swanton went 3 for 4 from the foul stripe starting the fourth, the last two by Christensen with 7:06 left to tie the game.
Limes’ long triple with 5:14 left gave Eastwood a three point lead.
Nelson answered with a three-ball of her own tying the score with 4:36 left and 30 seconds later after an Eagle turnover, Ally Hendricks put the Dogs ahead for good on a short baseline jumper.
After the Eagles misfired on the front end of a one-and-one, and Schmeltz only could make 1 for 2 from the line, Christensen took a pass in the post on an out-of-bonds play and wheeled for a score for a 33-30 lead.
Again Eastwood found themselves at the foul line and again, this time Limes, could convert just 1 for 2. Then after a Bulldog miss, Bridget Harlett made the play of the game for Swanton, forcing an Eagle turnover and scooping up the loose ball for a score to give the Bulldogs a 35-31 lead.
“We have five girls who play a lot of minutes for us,” explained Oakes. “And the hard work and effort those girls who come off the bench for us, it’s happened a few times this year in big games, and tonight it happened again with Abby Arnold. She got in there and got some rebounds and a big basket. Bridget Harlett, I mean that was a huge charge she took putting herself on the line there, I’ll take those plays any day. And then she had the big basket with a minute and a half left.”
From that point the Bulldogs kept Eastwood at bay from the line.
Christensen split a pair, then Taylor hit four straight to ice it.
“We struggled just a little early, but we made the ones that counted at the end,” said Oakes of the Bulldogs fourth quarter foul shooting. “The girls did a nice job.”
Neither team shot it well from the field as Eastwood was 12 for 46 for 26 percent, and both teams turned it over as the Eagles had 21 compared to the Bulldogs’ 24.
The difference was at the line where Swanton hit 19 for 30 and Eastwood was 6 for 18, including three missed front ends of a one-and-one.
Christensen had 13 and Taylor 12 to lead the Bulldogs in scoring.
Schmeltz had 16 for Eastwood.
Swanton now faces Archbold in the nightcap of the Lake District on Thursday.
Reach Joe Blystone at email@example.com