HOLLAND: Final moments of Tigers’ sectional win
Every basketball player dreams of being in the scenario Jessica Smith found herself in Saturday.
It’s all up to you — tournament game, score tied, almost no time on the clock, and you’re at the free throw line with a chance win it.
Facing Uniontown Lake in a Division I sectional opener at Sutton Gymnasium, Marietta trailed by as many as 11 points but had it tied at 48-all with six seconds left. Smith took the ball all the way to the basket, put up a shot off the glass that hung on the rim for a second before falling to the ground. It was no good.
However, there was a whistle.
Lake’s Wendy Tobin was called for a foul, sending Smith to the line with sixth-tenths of a second on the clock. The scenario every basketball player dreams of.
“I was really nervous, but I was like, ‘All you have to do is put one in and you’re good,'” Smith said. “My teammate Morgan (Altenburger) came up to me and she was like ‘You just have to make one. You’ve got it.’ I looked in the stands and I knew I didn’t want it to go into overtime.”
Marietta head coach Allen Ruth was confident his senior would be able to handle the pressure of the moment. It’s something the Tigers have prepared for.
“We do a lot of that kind of stuff at practice, as does everybody else,” Ruth said. “Shooting pressure foul shots at the end of practice. She had two shots and she was going to make one of them.”
Before Smith took the shots, she thought about the words of wisdom Altenburger had shared with her.
“I just had to tell her,”Altenburger recalled, “I was like ‘It’s tied. So worst case, we go to overtime. If you make one out of two, we win the game.'”
Smith stepped up to the line, bounced the ball a couple times and shot the first free throw.
“I just took my time, I shot the ball and it went in,” Smith said.
That made it 49-48, Marietta. Lake head coach Brian DeLap’s head dropped, knowing it would take a miracle for his Blue Streaks to keep their season alive.
“I was really proud of her,” Ruth said.
“They just didn’t give up. We got down early and they didn’t give up.”
Upon seeing her first attempt go through the net, Smith “was really relieved. All the nerves I had, they just left my body. There was .6 seconds left, so I was like ‘We got it. We won.’ It was just a relief. The support of my teammates was like — it was a great experience.”
Though her second attempt was off the mark, all Lake could do was rebound it and heave it across the court. The ball fell to the ground, and Marietta celebrated the hard earned victory.
Altenburger’s team-high 20 points helped keep the Tigers in it when things weren’t going well.
“In the past we’ve struggled with just falling apart,” said Altenburger, who became a 1,000-point scorer earlier this season.
“In the third quarter we were down 11, and we really clutched down and came together. We were like ‘We’re winning this game’ and we did.”
The win gave Marietta the opportunity to keep playing, which they’ll do today at North Canton Hoover. The sectional championship is on the line.
“Enjoy this win this weekend,” Ruth said after Saturday’s game. “Monday, we’ve got to get refocused and go play Hoover Thursday.”
Smith feels confident her team can repeat Saturday’s magic.
“If we just play as a team and play together like we did tonight, there’s nothing else to it,” she said. “We have it.”
Jordan Holland is an associate sports editor for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.