Upset Special: Royals win triple-overtime thriller, knockoff No. 7 Tigers

0
724

Eastern Hancock’s Ruby White, left, and Grace Stapleton celebrate after defeating state-ranked Triton Central in triple overtime during the Class 2A Sectional 42 semifinal on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS — Eight was enough and so was one.

Unable to beat Triton Central in eight consecutive meetings prior, Eastern Hancock used a big second-half run and 12-additional minutes Saturday night during the Heritage Christian Sectional 42 semifinals to finally vanquish the past.

Down by 11 points in the third quarter, the Class 2A 12th-ranked Royals found, not just one, but multiple heroes down the stretch to storm back and upset the seventh-ranked Tigers, 66-65, in a triple-overtime thriller that ended with a sea of blue at center court.

With 5.2 seconds remaining in the third overtime, and Eastern Hancock clinging to a 66-65 lead after losing possession a few ticks beforehand, victory came down to defense and a little bit of luck.

Both showed up for the Royals, as Triton Central senior Olivia Faust’s last-second 3-pointer drew the back of the iron and harmlessly bounced away, prompting a pair of raised fists by a leaping and elated Eastern Hancock sophomore Ruby White, who rushed her teammates in a celebratory swarm at half court.

“What does it mean? It means a lot. We’ve had the Triton Central monkey on our backs for too long. They’re not a rival, but they’re a team that you love to beat for various reasons,” Eastern Hancock head coach Shari Doud said. “These kids, when it came to gut-check time, they were as energetic at the end of the third overtime as they were at the beginning of the game. That’s a sign of some competitors who can get it done in a big game down the stretch.”

The Royals (17-5) last defeated Triton Central (19-5) five seasons ago in the 2016-17 sectional finals to claim the program’s most recent and only second championship all time.

Saturday’s semifinal had the feel of a title game for the Royals, and they approached it that way, but they’re not done. Tonight, they will look to finish the job at 7 p.m. against host Heritage Christian (15-11), which beat Irvington Prep Academy, 59-10, in the second semifinal game.

“Oh, my gosh. We haven’t beaten them since 2017, and five years later, we did it. We’ve wanted to beat them for so long. It’s just crazy. It’s an all-time high, for sure,” White said. “Yeah, we got to win now. We got to go all the way, baby!”

Against Triton Central, the Royals went all in.

Down 20-15 after the first quarter, a 7-0 Royals’ run in the second tied the game, 23-23, marking the first of six stalemates overall until the game’s final four minutes.

Faust proved a threat throughout for the Tigers, as the 6-foot-1 forward finished with a game-high 31 points, including five rebounds and three 3-pointers in crucial moments.

The Royals however, collectively countered Faust’s 22 second-half and overtime points with three double-digit scorers.

Junior Grace Stapleton’s team-high 23 points unfolded with 13 in the first half and a game-tying, buzzer-beating four-point play to keep the Royals within striking distance.

Fouled after burying her second of four 3-pointers, Stapleton’s four-point punch before halftime tied the game 29-all. She struck again to end the third quarter, draining a trey to cut Triton Central’s 11-point lead to eight, 40-48.

“She lives for clutch shots. She’s always doing the countdown, long-range shots at practice at the end. She does it at each practice,” Doud said. “She’s no stranger to those kinds of shots.”

Her sister Caroline Stapleton had 14 points with three 3-pointers. Her final long-range bucket initiated a 12-0 run for the Royals in the fourth quarter with 6 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in regulation.

Sammie Bolding, who added 12 points, sliced the deficit to 50-48 with a pair of free throws in the fourth following Stapleton’s three. A Mackenzie O’Neal layup and a Grace Stapleton steal and two free throws after being fouled gave the Royals their first advantage since the first quarter, 52-20, with 4:31 left.

“This was very similar to an earlier game this season. Against (Mid-Eastern Conference foe) Wapahani, a game that went four overtimes. We got down against them and battled back. We were down 11, I think, at one point in the second half, and again, the kids play without a conscience sometimes. They just continue to go out and play the way that they play and hit big shots,” Doud said.

“Of course, when you hit a shot or two, you’re energy levels tends to ramp up again. We had a flurry of a couple of baskets and by golly, that somehow musters up new energy.”

Much like their 80-73 quadruple-overtime win against Wapahani on Nov. 27, the Royals never surrendered.

Tied 52-all after Triton Central sophomore center Brooklyn Bailey converted two free throws at the 3:51 mark, EH’s Sydney Springman hit two of her own 20 seconds later.

A Caroline Stapleton shot in the post put the Royals ahead 56-52 with 2:51 remaining in regulation, but Faust scored four unanswered, including two in the final eight seconds to send the game into overtime.

Both teams went scoreless in the first overtime, then White came through in the sixth period with two free throws for a 58-56 lead and a huge layup off a Sammie Bolding assist to make it 60-56 with 47 seconds left.

“She struggled a little bit offensively in the beginning, finishing shots, but you have to give credit to Triton Central. They make it tough to score inside. But, when we needed her most down the stretch, she hit some big free throws and got a big bucket,” Doud said. “She had several very important rebounds. She was huge in the clutch. We knew she was due, and I’m glad it came through at the right time.”

White had three points in the first half and finished with nine.

“It was definitely a mental game for sure. Getting past all the lows that I had, but it definitely paid off in the end,” White said. “We all got together before the fourth quarter, and we knew we could all do this. We all buckled down and we fought through. We had grit and that’s why we are here where we are now.”

They were also at full strength unlike their 50-41 loss at Triton Central on Nov. 13. Without Caroline Stapleton, the Royals struggled to keep pace during the regular season.

In the third overtime, a White free throw and Sammie Bolding’s second 3-pointer setup Caroline Stapleton, who converted 1 of 2 free throws with 13.2 on the clock for a 66-62 lead.

“Losing by nine points to them, we knew it was within reach, especially having one of our starters out the first time we played them. That just fired us up even more,” White said.

Faust hit a 3-pointer with 6.8 remaining to make it 66-65, and a Royals’ turnover on a long in-bound pass opened the door for the Tigers, but Eastern Hancock stood its ground.

“I knew we weren’t done, but I knew we hit an offensive lull, which unfortunately this season we’ve done that in big games. We’ve had five- or six-minute lulls where we’re not scoring and we’re giving up easy shots, then we have to dig our way out of it. We had to do that here tonight,” Doud said. “I also know I have a group of kids that won’t settle that early in the game. They know they’re not done.”

Eastern Hancock 66, Triton Central 65, 3 OT

Eastern Hancock;15;14;11;16;0;4;6;-;66

Triton Central;20;9;19;8;0;4;5;-;65

Eastern Hancock (17-6): Caroline Stapleton 5 1-4 14, Grace Stapleton 7 5-5 23, Sydney Springman 1 2-3 4, Ruby White 2 5-8 9, Makenzie O’Neal 2 0-0 4, Emma Bolding 0 0-0 0, Sammie Bolding 2 6-8 12. Totals 19 19-28 66.

Triton Central (19-5): Hallie Schweitzer 3 2-2 9, Lizzie Graham 0 7-8 7, Maia Harris 2 3-4 7, Brooklyn Bailey 1 2-4 4, Olivia Faust 12 2-3 31, Kennedy Brown 3 0-0 7, Riley Ross 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 16-21 65.

3-point field goals: Eastern Hancock 9 (C. Stapleton 3, G. Stapleton 4, S. Bolding 2), Triton Central 6 (Schweitzer 1, Faust 4, K. Brown 1).