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Upset win gives Lady Tigers state berth

ATHENS — The dream season ran into a nightmare.

The unbeaten Oak Hill Lady Oaks were dreaming of a return trip to the state tournament. Instead, they ran into a nightmare called the Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers’ defense.

Ironton held the high-scoring Oak Hill offense in check with a 43-31 win Saturday that gave the Lady Fighting Tigers the Division III regional championship and a berth in the state tournament.

“My girls had confidence going into the game,” said Ironton coach Doug Graham. “We played them within two points at home and we knew if we kept it close at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter we had a chance.”

Oak Hill struggled from the 3-point line, hitting just 6-of-32 attempts. Ironton kept the Lady Oaks out of the paint with their inside defense led by Lorna Ceaser and Nikki Elswick and dominated the boards 41-29.

Ironton had 16 points in the paint to just eight for Oak Hill.

“Nikki did a good job on (Rebecca) Puckett. She’s a good post player. But we had a lot of help side defense,” said Ceaser. “We played great team defense. We wanted it. That’s not to say Oak Hill didn’t want to win, but we wanted to play defense and we really wanted to win.”

Elswick finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Brea Tackett scored 13 points including 5-of-6 over the final 1:30 to seal Ironton’s third Final Four trip and their first since the 2004-05 season.

“We knew going in we had to step it up. We knew we would make runs and they would make runs. We just had to push through it and that’s exactly what we did,” said Tackett.

Ironton (17-7) will play at 1 p.m. Thursday at the Ohio State Schottenstein Center against Middletown Madison.

Oak Hill (24-1) was led by Puckett with 15 points and six rebounds. Leading scorer and District Player of the Year Karissa Adkins managed just one point and was 0-of-8 from the field.

“Nikki and LC (Ceaser) played tough defense inside. They’ve played that way through the whole tournament,” said Graham. “To give up only 31 points to Oak Hill is tremendous. They score 70 and 80 points a game like it’s their job.”

Elswick converted a 3-point play to stake Ironton to a quick lead at the 7:27 mark. Breanna Butler countered with a 3-pointer at the 5:25 mark to tie the game and the nip-and-tuck battle was on.

Oak Hill led 8-7 on a layup by Lakin Caudill after a steal by Adkins, but Elswick made two foul shots and Ironton led 9-8 at the end of the quarter.

Ironton led by four points three times in the second quarter including 20-16 at the half when Janie Morris buried a trifecta with 47 seconds on the clock

The Lady Oaks came out with a scoring run in the second half. Puckett nailed a 3-pointer, Adkins made a free throw to tie the game, Puckett hit two more baskets inside and Breanna Butler’s baseline shot made it 26-20 with 3:16 left in the quarter.

But Ironton came back on two foul shots by Elswick and a 19-footer by Rebekkah Potter at the buzzer to get Ironton within 28-26.

A trey by Tackett put Ironton up 30-28 and the Lady Tigers defense took over. Oak Hill managed only one basket in the fourth quarter, a 3-pointer by Puckett with 2:36 to play.

Oak Hill 8 8 12 3 = 31

Ironton 9 11 6 17 = 43

OAK HILL (24-1) Taylor Hale 0 1 2-2 5, Breanna Butler 1 1 0-0 5, Rebecca Puckett 3 3 0-0 15, Mikie Strite 0 1 0-0 3, Karissa Adkins 0 0 1-2 1, Kelsey Burton 0 0 0-0 0, Lakin Caudill 1 0 0-0 2, Taylor Butler 0 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11-54 3-4 31. 3-point goals: 6-32. Fouls: 22. Fouled out: None. Rebounds 6 offense, 18 defense = 24 (Puckett 6, Adkins 4, Caudill 4). Team rebounds: 5. Assists: 3 (Adkins 2). Steals: 8 (Strite 2, Caudill 2). Blocked shots: 1 (Butler).

IRONTON (17-7): Alex Taylor 1 0 0-1 2, Brea Tackett 1 2 5-7 13, Nikki Elswick 6 0 6-7 18, Janie Morris 0 1 5-6 7, Lorna Caesar 0 0 0-1 0, Rebekka Potter 1 0 0-0 2, Emily Lilly 0 0 0-0 0 Taylor Lilly 0 0 0-0 0, Emily Davis 0 0 0-0 0, Tori Klaiber 0 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12-35 16-22 31. 3-point goals: 3-3. Fouls: 14. Fouled out: None. Rebounds 7 offense, 33 defense = 40 (Elswick 13, Ceaser 6, Taylor 6). Team rebounds: 6. Assists: 6 (Taylor 2, Morris 2). Steals: 9 (Tackett 3, Morris 2, Elswick 2). Blocked shots: None.