The Oglethorpe women's basketball team won its first SAA championship and its second conference championship overall Sunday afternoon with a 70-69 overtime victory over the Hendrix Warriors in a classic game at Dorough Field House. The victory won the program its first conference title since the 2008-09 team won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference crown.
The victory was not easy for the Stormy Petrels, as Hendrix repeatedly came back from arm's length deficits in the second half, bouncing back from down eight points twice. They were down by that margin with 4:15 left in the game, but fought back to force overtime. The Petrels persevered, though, coming back from a 3-point deficit in overtime by getting a couple of huge baskets in the extra period, then hitting free throws down the stretch.
"This was an outstanding game with two great teams," said Oglethorpe head coach Alex Richey, "and credit goes to Hendrix and Coach [Drew] Gaeng, as they battled back multiple times and showed their character. At the end of the day, though, I couldn't be happier for this group of young women. They have stayed the course, believed in one another, trusted one another, bought into our plan, and they loved each other. When that happens, good things are going to happen to your team. It's great when you have the ability and the confidence in every single player you put in the game to get the job done, and everybody on our team got the job done today. It's taken us four years to get to this point with this group, and we're really going to enjoy these next couple of days as we get ready to go to the NCAA tournament."
Junior guard Bailey Charles sank a 3-pointer to begin the extra frame, but the Warriors responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 61-58 lead with 3:29 left. Sophomore guard Taylor Dodson responded less than 30 seconds later with a huge three of her own, hitting the shot with a hand in our face, to tie the game at 61-61 with three minutes left. The two teams traded missed opportunities, but Oglethorpe got a layup from Charles, who finished with 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds, to take the lead back with 1:30 left. Hendrix tied the game at the other end, but Oglethorpe got a bucket from freshman center Savannah LeGate to give her team a 65-63 lead with 53 seconds left.
LeGate took home SAA Tournament MVP honors, giving her that award along with the SAA Player of the Year and SAA Newcomer of the Year accolades. She finished the game Sunday with a game-high 20 points, with two blocks and seven rebounds. She was joined on the SAA All-Tournament Team by sophomore forward Karlymarie Dyer, who finished the day with five points and six rebounds, and played outstanding basketball in Saturday's semifinal win over Berry and Friday's first round victory over Millsaps.
At the other end, Hendrix missed a 3-pointer and the Charles got the rebound and was fouled, putting her at the line with 27 seconds left. She sank both shots from the charity stripe to give her team a 67-63 lead. Hendrix got a quick bucket at the other end to cut it back to two, but Charles was fouled again with 21 seconds left and again sank both free throws. The Petrels fouled Madison Martin of Hendrix with 12 seconds remaining, allowing her to sink a pair of free throws with the clock stopped and cut the Petrel lead back down to two. With around 10 seconds left, the Petrels made just 1 of 4 free throws during an exchange where Charles was fouled and junior forward Lauren Ransom picked up an offensive rebound and got fouled. Hendrix got two free throws at the other end with five seconds left and made them both, cutting the Oglethorpe edge to 70-69. Charles got the ball again and was fouled with three seconds on the clock, but missed both free throws, giving Hendrix the chance for a heave at the end. They never got the chance for that, though, as sophomore guard Sydney Long stepped in and swiped the ball from the Warriors' Leah Boehl, clinching victory for the Petrels and setting off a wild celebration at Dorough Field House.
The Petrels led 52-44 with 4:15 remaining in regulation, but Hendrix responded with an 11-3 run over the remainder of the fourth quarter to tie the game 55-55. After LeGate made a free throw to put the home side up 55-50 with two minutes left, the Warriors sank the final two baskets of regulation. They tied the game on a Martin jump shot with a minute remaining, marking the first time they hadn't been behind since the 1:20 mark of the first period. Both teams had a shot to win the game on the offensive end over the final minute. Charles put up a runner in the lane with two seconds left that banked off the glass and then rolled off the rim as time expired.
The Petrels had an 8-point lead early in the third quarter as well, and looked like they were threatening to step on the gas after a LeGate layup put them ahead 31-23 with just under eight minutes remaining in the period. The Warriors responded with seven straight points, pulling to within a single point at 31-30 with 5:37 to go in the third and putting themselves right back in the game. Oglethorpe proceeded to build its lead back out, going up 39-32 after a 6-point run of their own. Hendrix cut it back to 43-41 with 8:30 left in regulation, but the Petrels used a 6-0 run to vault themselves into the late 8-point advantage.
It was Hendrix who was hot at the outset, starting the contest on an 11-4 run over the opening 5:30 to take their largest lead of the game. The Petrels quickly bounced back, outscoring the Warriors 10-1 over the remainder of the quarter. The teams traded baskets in the second for the most part, but Oglethorpe got the better of it, outscoring Hendrix 13-11 during that period. Oglethorpe was up by seven late in the half, but Hendrix hit a buzzer-beater to pull to within four at the break.
The Petrels will now head to the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship, as they'll receive the SAA's automatic bid to the 64-team field. The team will find out where they're going Monday at 2:30 p.m., when the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Committee announces the bracket on NCAA.com.