By Brad Morris
Gabby McConnell stood all alone at the free throw line on Friday with the score tied at 30-30 and no time remaining on the game clock.
The Circleville junior could have felt a wide range of emotions with two free throws forthcoming, but only one stood out.
“I was very confident, and I think part of that goes back to us practicing these end of game scenarios,” McConnell said. “Going through that in practice prepared me for a moment like this and I knew that I was going to come through for our team.”
McConnell only needed one free throw to seal a 31-30 win and hand visiting Bloom-Carroll its first Mid-State League Buckeye Division setback of the season.
“I knew the basketball was going in after I released the free throw,” McConnell said. “That was special, getting to celebrate with my teammates and finishing a big win for us against a very good Bloom-Carroll team.”
Maddie Blakeman led all scorers with 14 points for the Tigers, McConnell scored six of her eight points in the fourth quarter and Faith Yancey added six points.
The Tigers forced ties of 25-25 after a three-pointer from McConnell and 27-27 following a reverse layup by Maddie Blakeman before finally taking the lead during the fourth quarter.
Maddie Blakeman split a pair of free throws and McConnell drained two charity tosses to give the Tigers a 30-27 lead with 4:14 remaining.
“Maddie and Gabby gave us a lift there in the fourth and, overall, I was pleased with the way our girls competed and grinded things out in a low-scoring ballgame,” Circleville coach Brian Bigam said.
Bloom-Carroll (10-3, 7-1), playing without the services of reigning league player of the year Emily Bratton, battled back to tie the score at 30-30, after Marissa Wilkinson made three of four free throws, the last with 38 seconds remaining on the clock.
“Obviously, Bloom-Carroll being without a player the caliber of Bratton hurt them, but I felt the rest of their kids stepped up and played a solid game,” Bigam said. “It was an absolute battle for four quarters.”
The Tigers turned the ball over to the Bulldogs on an illegal screen with 12.1 seconds left, but the Bulldogs returned the favor with an offensive foul on a push off with six seconds remaining.
That’s when McConnell was fouled on a driving shot from the right wing with no time showing on the game clock.
Maddie Blakeman, Morgan Blakeman, Maddux Bigam and Yancey watched in front of the scorer’s table and jumped for joy after McConnell drained her first free throw, sealing the upset win.
“Gabby did a nice job of drawing contact on the shot and then she stepped to the free throw line and had ice water in her veins,” Bigam praised. “That was impressive.”
The Circleville student section rushed the floor to celebrate with their girls basketball team and sing the school’s fight song, Across the Field.
Circleville (9-3, 5-3) entered the second half trailing 19-14 but held Bloom-Carroll scoreless for the first six minutes and 34 seconds.
Morgan Blakeman opened the second half with a basket and her younger sister, Maddie, did the rest of the work, scoring on a pair of drives to the basket and draining two free throws, giving the Tigers a brief 20-19 lead and then tying the game at 22-22.
Tessa Brooks snapped the scoring drought with a pair of three-pointers in the final 85 seconds of the period, sending the Bulldogs into the fourth quarter with a narrowed 25-22 lead.
“We wanted to come out after halftime and make a move and our girls were able to do that,” Bigam said. “They were amazing on the defensive end and competed extremely hard together as a team.
“Maddux Bigam was able to set some screens and give Maddie some openings to drive to the basket and score or get to the line. I can’t say enough about Maddie stepping up as a freshman and leading our offense against a solid defensive squad like Bloom-Carroll.”
Brooks scored 13 points and Wilkinson added nine to pace the Bulldogs.
“Brooks stepped up for Bloom-Carroll and hit a couple of threes there at the end of the third to help them stay in front,” Bigam said. “After she hit those two threes, you knew the fourth was going to be an absolute battle and that our girls were going to have to be very resilient to win the game.”
The Tigers continue league play on Tuesday with a trip to Fairfield Union. Circleville will be opening a stretch of playing five of its next six games away from the friendly confines of the Horizon Gymnasium.
“This started a tough stretch of games for us, so to get a win over Bloom-Carroll was big,” McConnell said. “It gives us some momentum as a team into the rest of these games and hopefully we can continue to play well and make a move as a team.”
BLOOM-CARROLL — Tessa Brooks 5-0-13, Natalie Lang 1-0-2, Marissa Wilkinson 2-4-9, Alyssa Brown 2-2-6. Three-point goals — Brooks (3) and Wilkinson. Total — 10 6-9 30.
CIRCLEVILLE — Morgan Blakeman 1-0-2, Faith Yancey 3-0-6, Maddie Blakeman 5-4-14, Gabby McConnell 2-3-8. Three-point goals — McConnell. Total — 11 8-13 31.
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Bloom-Carroll 6 13 6 5 30
Circleville 5 9 8 9 31