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Final Four

COLUMBUS — Not only is smoking against team rules, it’s not allowed in the Schottenstein Center.

Ironton Lady Fighting Tigers’ coach Doug Graham might have made an exception to the rule and taken his chances with the fire marshal if he thought it could have eased his team’s early jitters.

An excited and antsy Lady Tigers’ team found itself down 9-0 at the start of Thursday’s Division III state semifinal game. The ill-fated start proved too much to overcome as the Middletown Madison Mohawks held on to beat Ironton 50-43.

“Sometimes it’s the team that settles their nerves the quickest who has the advantage. We finally hit a foul shot and settled down,” said Graham.

“My girls played extremely hard and with great intensity. You get down right away and you play the whole game battling and battling to try and get back in it. You spend so much energy it’s hard to get over the hump.”

Ironton didn’t score until Nikki Elswick made a layup with 4:16 left in the first quarter.

But with Ally Malott and Lindsay Hoskins scoring 11 points each in the first half, Madison built a 12-point lead early in the second quarter.

The Lady Fighting Tigers finally shook their jitters and became the aggressive team that sparked them during their tournament run.

Forcing 11 first half turnovers, Ironton got back in the game with nine unanswered points.

Elswick had a put-back, Lorna Ceaser made a foul shot and then a layup, Brea Tackett sank two free throws and Elswick came up with a steal she turned into a layup and Ironton trailed 23-20 with 3:11 left in the half.

“Their ball-handlers were 6-foot and 6-2 and we were 5-6 and 5-7, so we felt we could get down low and force them into bad passes and turnovers,” said Graham.

“They shifted their zone. Once we got in there, we knew their length would pose a problem. But I think my girls did a good job for the most part.”

Down 24-22, Rebekkah Potter got a steal but Ironton missed three shots from in the paint. Hoskins’ layup and two free throws by Malott opened up a 28-22 lead.

The Lady Tigers got within 28-24 at the break on a layup by Emily Lilly off a pass from Potter with four seconds on the clock.

“Ironton did what we expected,” said Madison coach John Rossi. “They’re a physical team. We kept them off the boards when we got the lead in the first quarter. They kicked our butts in the second quarter and we still had the lead.”

Both teams struggled offensively in the third quarter. Madison was 4-of-10 from the field and Ironton a meager 1-of-11. Malott’s 3-pointer with 48 seconds left in the quarter gave the Mohawks a 37-29 lead.

Alex Taylor hit a baseline jumper and then Elswick converted a 3-point play and got a put-back with 5:22 to play and Ironton trailed just 37-36.

The Lady Tigers’ were able to force turnovers but they were unable to capitalize as they missed four shots. Hoskins made a free throw and Malott two more as Madison went up 42-36 with 2:36 left.

Tackett drained a trifecta with 1:12 left to get Ironton within 46-41,but Adrianne Lehman converted 3-of-4 shots from the line to make it 49-41 with 41 seconds to go.

“We knew (Tackett) on the perimeter could stroke the ball. We want to have a hand in her face. We switched from our 1-3-1 to a 2-3 zone. We knew it would be tough for them to get off shots (from the 3-point line),” said Rossi.

The 5-foot-2 Tackett expected Madison’s size to cause shooting problems for her as well as her teammates. Tackett suffered the worse shooting performance of her career as she made just 3-of-19 attempts.

Still, she was aggressive and took the ball to the basket to jump start Ironton’s inside game.

“The first time I drove in and got past them I knew I could get inside,” said Tackett. “I felt I rushed my shot. I knew their (long) arms would be in my face.”

Despite Madison’s overall size advantage, Ironton had 43 rebounds including 17 on the offensive end. Madison had 34 rebounds and just five on offense.

“We’re used to being pretty big but they were a lot bigger. I knew we’d get some shots blocked,” said Ceaser. “But (the second quarter) gave us confidence and we were getting boards.”

Elswick had 14 points and eight rebounds to lead Ironton. Ceaser finished with 11 points and nine rebounds while Tackett had nine points, three assists and three steals.

The 6-foot-3 Malott scored 18 points including 10-of-14 from the line. She had seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Hoskins added 12 points and eight rebounds.

Madison — now 27-0 — plays Findlay Liberty-Benton in the state finals at 10:45 a.m. Saturday.

Ironton saw its five-game winning streak snapped and finished the season 17-8.

“I didn’t feel (Madison) would come in here and beat us by 20 or 30. With the confidence we had coming in I knew we could play with anybody and we did,” said Graham.

Ironton’s biggest enemy was their shooting. The Lady Tigers were 17-of-57 from the field for 29.8 percent and just 8-of-17 at the line.

Madison was 16-of-38 for 42 percent and converted 16-of-29 free throws.

Madison 16 12 9 13 = 50

Ironton 7 17 5 14 = 43

MIDDLETOWN MADISON (26-0): Ally Malott 3-10 10-14 18, Ashley Cox 1-3 0-2 2, Adrianna Lehman 0-2 4-6 4, Lindsay Hoskins 5-10 2-4 12, Brittany Shields 3-6 0-0 6, Morgan Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Ashlee Forrester 0-0 0-0 0, Abby Jerger 0-0 0-0 0, Rachel Blevins 4-7 0-3 8. Totals: 16-38 16-29 50. 3-point goals: 2-8 (Malott 2-6, Hoskins 0-1, Shields 0-1). Fouls: 16. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 5 offense, 29 defense – 34 (Hoskins 8, Malott 7, Blevins 6). Assists: 9 (Hoskins 4, Malott 3). Steals: 4 (Malott, Hoskins, Lehman, Forrester 1 each). Blocked shots: 6 (Malott 4, Cox 1, Hoskins 1). Turnovers: 17.

IRONTON (17-8): Alex Taylor 1-4 0-0 2, Nikki Elswick 6-11 2-2 14, Brea Tackett 3-19 2-3 9, Janie Morris 1-8 1-4 3, Lorna Ceaser 4-10 3-5 11, Rebekkah Potter 0-3 0-2 0, Emily Lilly 1-1 0-0 2, Emily Davis 1-1 0-0 2, Torie Klaiber 0-0 0-0 0, Katlyn Adkins 0-0 0-0 0, Ariel Schweickart 0-0 0-0 0, Karlee McMackin 0-0 0-0 0, Alicia Murphy 0-0 0-0 0, Colleen Walker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-57 8-17 43. 3-point goals: 1-9 (Tackett 1-8, Morris 0-1). Fouls: 21. Fouled out: Taylor (4th 3:17). Rebounds: 17 offense, 26 defense = 43 (Ceaser 9, Elswick 8, Tackett , Morris 5). Assists: 8 (Tackett 3, Ceaser 2, Potter 2). Steals: 10 (Tackett 3, Elswick 2, Ceaser 2, Potter 2). Blocked shots: 1 (Elswick). Turnovers: 15.