When the final 3-pointer by New Albany fell short of the rim, the Seymour girls basketball team converged at its bench to celebrate school history.
With a 43-40 victory Thursday night, Seymour claimed its first outright Hoosier Hills Conference title, going unblemished at 7-0 in conference play.
“It was our ability to stick together,” Owls coach Jason Longmeier said. “The four years I’ve been here, we’ve had a major injury to a major player of ours. To start this season with (Emilee) Pollmann out, and the way our kids came out this season without feeling sorry for ourselves and battling every day, I think says a lot about this group and their character. We found out how tough we needed to be today. Once we toughened up, I felt like even when they had a lead at half. We had the game.”
Seymour came out slow in the first quarter after taking a 2-0 lead from a basket by junior Kayla Griffin, as New Albany went on an 11-2 run on five Owls turnovers by the 2:07 mark.
A 3-pointer by Owls junior Lauren James narrowed the deficit, as the team trailed 14-9 after eight minutes of play.
Lacking in the rebounding department, giving up a handful of offensive boards, the Owls switched from a man defense to a 2-3 zone in the second quarter.
“I didn’t think we were going to get it done with man (defense),” Longmeier said. “When it was 14-6, (assistant) coach Nathan Owen said we needed to change to zone. I felt like the zone would give us an opportunity to keep them off the glass. It turned out to be a good decision.”
Seymour senior Mikayla Fee opened the second stanza with a 3-pointer and scored the Owls’ next four points off of a pair of jump shots that hit the backboard from 10 feet. The Owls trailed 18-16 with 4:58 left in the half.
“I thought the key early on was that Fee kept us in the game,” Longmeier said. “She stepped up and hit a couple shots. What that did at that point was pulled (New Albany’s Chyna) Anthony to come out and guard the perimeter. That opened it up for us.”
At intermission, the Owls trailed the Bulldogs 21-19. Seymour had nine turnovers in the first half to the New Albany’s six giveaways.
Coming out with new energy, the Owls opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run behind four points by Griffin to go up by four with 6:33 on the clock.
New Albany answered with six straight points of their own to retake the lead, but baskets by Owls seniors Morgan Ritz and Maci Lubker put the away team up 29-27 after 24 minutes.
On the opening possession of the fourth quarter, Ritz came away with a steal that James converted into free throws to set the tone for the final eight minutes.
A pair of shots from the charity stripe by Lubker gave the Owls their biggest lead of the night at 33-27 with 6:27 remaining.
The Bulldogs climbed back to tie the game at 40 on a 3-pointer by Marissa Jones at 1:21.
Ritz split free throws with 1:10 on the clock but collected a huge offensive rebound to give the Owls possession.
The Owls missed their one-and-one free throw and fouled Bulldogs senior Jenna Shine with 11 seconds left. However, Shine missed both attempts, and her team trailed 41-40.
Pollmann collected the rebound, was fouled and hit her free throws, as the Owls went on to claim the title.
“(Pollmann) missed two in the first half, and I told coach Owen that she looked rusty from that spot,” Longmeier said. “He looked at me and said, ‘She’s going to make them at the end,’ and that’s what she did. I don’t know that I would rather have anyone step up at that point. She wanted the opportunity tonight, and they were two big free throws.”
Griffin led the Owls with 10 points, while Fee, James and Lubker each finished with nine.
Anthony topped the Bulldogs’ scoring with 10 points.
Seymour shared the HHC crown in 2007, so this is the school’s second overall title but first with sole possession.
Longmeier said that the HHC is one of the toughest conference in the state.
“We’ve talked about this the past couple weeks. This conference doesn’t get the respect it deserves,” he said. “There are some great conferences up north, but our teams have stayed with or beaten many of them. We’re going into the sectional next week with four top-40 teams in the state of Indiana. You can only say that about three other sectionals in the state. This conference is really good, and to go through unblemished the way we did is special.”
The Owls (18-4) will play the Bulldogs again Tuesday in the first round of the Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Sectional.