New Knoxville girls basketball head coach Tim Hegemier may have saved his best for last.
We’ll find out on ScoresBroadcast.com at 11:30 a.m. on Friday when his Rangers, 26-2, tangle in a state semi-final with Cincinnati Country Day, 21-5, and conquerors of Fort Loramie, ranked number one in Division IV in the final state Associated Press poll, and Tri-Village, rated number two. WMVR, 105.5 TAM FM, simulcasts the super match-up.
The two outlets will cover the Botkins and Tri-Village boys regional final on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
First, in the high-noon tip, in this Hegemier’s final and 17th year of coaching girls hoops for the Rangers, the 2022 team is a pair of wins away from repeating what the girls volleyball team accomplished. V-Ball and B-Ball can go back to back with D-IV state titles four months apart.
And second, Hegemier’s club is only a couple victories short of topping the performance of his 2007 state finalist team. That club earned a one-point triumph in a dramatic state semi thanks to a 17-foot jump shot by Haley Kruse with less than a half minute to go in the game. But NK dropped the championship contest to Columbus Africentric.
The Rangers’ motto here in March 2022 might just be “Start Strong,” “Come Out Blazing,” or “Take the Tip and Run.” That’s what they did to Toledo Christian last Saturday night in the regional final at Elida. The Rangers galloped to a 12-4 bulge and were never passed. A clutch 14-foot jump shot by Ellie Gabel — with under a minute remaining in the fourth — pushed the lead to five and helped to seal the deal.
Hegemier knows all too well about the importance of answering the bell with a sharp start. This is not what the Rangers produced in the March 2007 state final tilt. Africentric raced to an 11-0 advantage. New Knoxville shot 27 percent. Outstanding post player Nicole Wright got in foul trouble. NK was outscored by 18 in the paint. The Rangers were state runners-up.
In the state semifinal that year, the opening frame was the same. The Rangers fell behind, 12-3, to Bedford St. Peter Chanel. They still trailed, 25-21, until Alycia Niemeyer tallied four straight points and Kruse cranked home a jumper to kick off the final stanza. The Rangers saw a two-point edge disappear with 40 seconds to go after a 3-pointer. That set the stage for the Kruse heroics 23 seconds before the buzzer.
Such late game-deciding shots may not be necessary this weekend because Hegemier knows this Rangers girls team has the drive, determination and defensive skills to stifle the opponents offensive punch. Many of these same girls, hungry for a D-IV volleyball crown, performed in marvelous fashion on the big stage in late 2021 by thumping St. Henry to capture the top prize.
NK’s defensive stopper is Haley Fledderjohann. She has slowed down the opponents’ top scorers all year. She checked up tightly on Toledo Christian’s super shooting guard and stymied her on nine points. She held Convoy Crestview’s ace to eight; New Bremen’s to seven; Anna’s to six; and Minster and Fort Recovery’s to five.
Fledderjohann may go nose to nose with Country Day’s Gracie Barns on Friday at noon. Barns is a special player, coming off screens and pumping in triples or darting to the glass to sink driving shots in traffic. She sticks in 16 points an outing, scored 26 in the season opener at Tri-Village, and played the Patriots off the court in the regional final last Saturday with a dazzling 11-point display in the third period.
So, if Barns is getting her shots and her radar is on target, NK may be required to match baskets in a run-and-shoot affair. Well, no worry, right? The Rangers’ offense is currently producing points with smooth precision and is performing at peak efficiency.
The balance all season has been amazing. Avery Henschen poured in 20 versus Russia. Carsyn Henschen racked up 16 against Spencerville. Gabel is coming off perhaps her best game of the year, a 16-point showing in the regional title tilt. Fledderjohann stroked in 20 versus Versailles. Rebecca Leffel and Melisa Waterman registered team highs of 14 on separate nights.
Both New Knoxville and Country Day have a couple six-footers to sweep the boards. The Knighthawks shoot 40 percent behind the arc; NK, 37. CD averages 58 per contest; NK, 48. The Rangers yield a dozen points fewer per game than the Cincinnati team.
Country Day is comprised primarily of sophomores. The Rangers are senior-laden. This maturity and experience could make the difference on Friday.
Remember: The New Knoxville girls have already excelled and enjoyed playing under the bright lights, just a few months back.