Third-ranked Hutchinson and No. 6 Butler waged a battle Saturday befitting of two of the NJCAA’s best women’s teams. And, fittingly, it went down to the final tenth of a second.
Tournament MVP Jen’Von’Ta Hill picked up a loose ball after Butler’s Teanna Reid dropped Hill’s missed free throw. Hill, a sophomore, put the ball back in for a 54-51 lead, and Hutch held on for a 54-52 triumph and a 32-0 record.
Hutch coach John Ontjes described the play as a lucky one.
“(Reid) was a little off-balance when she came down with (the rebound),” Ontjes said. “It was a lucky play.”
After Hill’s putback, she was called for her fifth foul, sending Ashley Gibson to the free-throw line.
Gibson made the first then intentionally missed the second, and a held ball was called with 0.8 seconds left, giving Butler possession.
But Ashley Ivy’s attempt for a tie bounced off the rim and was deemed after the buzzer, and the Blue Dragons held on.
“You’ve just got to step up; big players make big plays,” Hill said. “I thought we all made big plays.”
Hill said the lanes just seemed to open up in the second half.
“There was a lot of openings, and I didn’t want to lose,” she said. “So I kept attacking and shooting it, pushing it to the open player, just making the easy plays.”
When the fumbled rebound bounced to her, Hill realized her luck.
“It was a blessing,” she said. “She put it right in my hands.”
And from there, Hill put it in the basket.
Hill finished with a game-high 19 points. Freshman Shakira Harding, who kept the Blue Dragons close in the first half with three three-pointers, had 10.
As a freshman, this is Harding’s first taste of a region title. She admitted to some nerves before the title game began.
“I was so nervous,” she said. “Before the game, standing in the tunnel, everyone was just running around doing crazy dances, just screaming, yelling, making noises. The nervous was a ‘good’ nervous, more like an anxiety type.
“We just wanted to get out there and compete against another nationally-ranked team. I think if you’re not nervous then, then something’s wrong with you. It was definitely good to have a little ‘nervous’ in you, so you could go out there and be alert.”
Hutchinson will be in the field for the NJCAA women’s tournament in Salina, and Butler (32-2) likely will be in the field as an at-large team.
Butler coach Mike Helmer credited Hutchinson’s defense, which held the Grizzlies to 33-percent shooting.
“I thought Hutch’s defense was really, really good (Saturday),” Helmer said. “They got us to take some shots that we don’t normally like to take and got us off our rhythm a little bit.”
Helmer said his team still needs to learn to win when the games are close.
“We’ve had some close games this year, we’ve got to learn to win some games down the stretch,” he said. “Hutch, they’ve always done that ever since (Coach John) Ontjes has been there, so we’re trying to catch up to that, and we’ll continue to fight and learn.”
HUTCHINSON: Harding 10, Patrick 8, Hill 19, Starks 7, Jones 2, Benoit 2, Purcell 6. Totals 21-51 8-17 54.
BUTLER: S. Williams 11, Reid 3, T. Williams 18, Ivy 15, Gibson 5. Totals 15-45 18-27 52.
Halftime – Hutchinson 25, Butler 22. Three-point baskets – Hutch 4 (Harding 3, Patrick); Butler 4 (S. Williams 2, Ivy 2). Rebounds – Hutchinson 40 (Patrick 8), Butler 31 (Reid 9). Fouls – Hutchinson 23, Butler 17. Technicals – None. Assists – Hutchinson 13 (Purcell 5), Butler 10 (Reid 5).
Division II Women
Highland 54, Johnson Co. 52
HIGHLAND: Daniel 6, Torres 2, Bowser 17, Corhn 15, Jolicoeur 8, Heard 6. Totals 20-61 6-11 54.
JOHNSON COUNTY: Wheeler 2, Hutt 2, O’Neal 4, Robinson 15, Kendall 8, Barrett 10, Gee 11. Totals 19-66 10-27 52.
Halftime – Highland 28, Johnson 23. Three-point baskets – Highland 8 (Daniel 2, Bowser 2, Heard 2, Jolicoeur 2); Johnson 4 (Gee, Barrett, Robinson, Kendall). Rebounds – Highland 43 (Corhn 9), Johnson 57 (Hutt 20). Fouls – Highland 22, Johnson 17. Technicals – None. Assists – Highland 12 (Bowser 6), Johnson 10 (O’Neal 5).