DAYTON — The first came less than three minutes into the game. The other one arrived less than two minutes into the second half.
There were probably several defining moments in New Knoxville’s 39-28 win over Cincinnati Country Day in a Division IV girls basketball state semifinal on Friday at the University of Dayton Arena.
But two stood out above the rest when the Rangers (27-2) won to move on to today’s state championship game against Waterford (25-3), which beat Buckeye Central 53-39 in Friday’s other Division IV semifinal.
Cincinnati Country Day’s defining moment might have come when its leading scorer, Gracie Barnes, fell to the court with a hamstring injury after scoring her first field goal with 5:12 left in the first quarter. She continued to play but scored only five points after averaging 14.6 points a game for the season.
“It was pretty tough. I couldn’t get it out of my head I was in pain and just focus on the game. It was like all the way down my leg,” Barnes said.
New Knoxville’s moment was much more positive. The Rangers were up 19-13 at halftime and had led all but 3 ½ minutes of the first half. But they hit only 1 of 8 field goal attempts in the second quarter while outscoring Country Day 4-2 in a frustrating offensive performance for both teams.
Enter Ellie Gabel. Forty-six seconds into the second half, the 5-6 senior point guard hit a 3-pointer that caught a little rim before it went through. A minute later, she hit another three that hit nothing but net and New Knoxville was ahead 25-13.
Its lead wouldn’t drop below 10 points for almost the next nine minutes. Country Day cut the lead to six points with 3:55 to play, but that was as close as it got.
“My shots weren’t falling early so I was pretty glad that one bounced in because I needed a little confidence boost,” said Gabel, who is New Knoxville’s leading scorer at 13.9 points a game.
Country Day coach John Snell said, “That was pretty big, especially with us coming out of the locker room and talking about making sure we run out at the 3-pointers. We just couldn’t recover from that. That was very big.
“They man handled us pretty good. That was a very good, physical game. Typically we like that type of game because I think we excel at that type of game. But they did a very good job of taking us out of the type of game we play,” he said.
Gabel led New Knoxville’s scoring with 12 points. Carsyn Henschen scored 10 points and Avery Henschen had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Elizabeth Zimmerman’s nine points led Country Day (21-6), which was held to a season-low 28 points. Its previous low this season was 44 points.
“I thought we played our defense really well to hold that team down to that many points. It got a little rough there right at the last. We’ll have to work on that but all in all I’m very pleased with the way my girls performed,” New Knoxville coach Tim Hegemier said.
Snell said, “You can tell they’re very senior loaded. Their guards are very good and strong. It was hard to get them off track. I saw some games where I thought, ‘OK, this is where we can exploit them and we can take advantage of it.’ But today not so much. They were right on key on a few things we like to do. You could tell these guys were senior loaded and geared up for this today.”