Athens girls capture district title
MANSFIELD - For most of Saturday's District 4, Class AAA final it looked like the Athens Wildcats were going to coast to a title.
Athens jumped out to a 13-0 lead and led 22-6 at the half.
Twice in the third quarter the lead extended to 19 points at 25-6 and at 33-14 and Athens led by 17 entering the fourth quarter.
Slowly things began to change in the fourth quarter as Danville picked up the pressure and fought back, closing within one before Athens held on for a 38-36 victory.
"It's bitter sweet," Athens coach Kelly Burkhart said of the victory. "It's a tough thing to accomplish coming from the NTL."
It wasn't the way Athens wanted things to play out at the end, but the end result was special for the Wildcats as they captured their first district title since 2003.
"It's not the fourth quarter we wanted, but we stuck with it."
For Burkhart a district title is something she experienced as a player in 2002 and now she is experiencing it as a coach.
"It is rare, it doesn't happen too often," Burkhart said of winning the title as a player and a coach.
For Athens players this is something they have dreamed of their whole careers.
"For the seniors we have worked four long, hard years for this," Monica Dougherty said.
Fellow senior Christin Dunkling knows the work the players put in to get to this point.
"It's amazing, unbelievable really," she said. "To work this hard, to come this far and then come out on top is amazing."
It almost didn't work out the way Athens wanted to as Danville played an inspired fourth quarter, outscoring Athens 20-5 in the final eight minutes.
"It got nerve wracking for a long little bit, but we knew we had to stay focused, and we did," Dunkling said.
The Wildcats know they made some mistakes down the stretch, but the end result is what they were worried about.
"We kind of got really nervous, but then we forced a turnover in the end," Dougherty said. "As coach said, we bent, but we didn't break and in the end we won and that's all that matters."
Danville got within a point with 16 seconds left when Amber Renz hit a three to cut the deficit to 37-36.
Dougherty was fouled and missed the first free throw before hitting the second to make it 38-36.
"They were nerve wracking," Dougherty said of the free throws. "I just thought about all the practices where we practiced free throws."
Danville got the ball with 13.6 left down two and a chance to tie or take the lead, but then Rachael
Donnelly made the play of the night, poking the ball free from Kylie Romeo for the steal with just 4.6 seconds left in the game to seal the victory.
"I was scared to death of fouling," Donnelly said.
Donnelly knew it was important to play tight defense, but she also knew she couldn't send Danville to the foul line.
"I was really nervous, I don't want to foul, I don't want them to get to the line, but I wanted to try and stop her."
Like her teammates Donnelly was nervous in that fourth quarter, but it was the Wildcats defense which struggled most of the quarter, that came up big in the end.
"Oh my gosh, it was so tough, I was so scared," Donnelly said of the fourth quarter. "It's was just an amazing feeling at the end. I feel great."
In the fourth it was Danville's defense that got them back into the game as they forced a five-second call on an inbounds, a 10-second call in the backcourt and forced 21 Athens turnovers in the game to get back into it.
Down 33-16, Danville scored nine straight to get to 33-25, before Danielle Dougherty hit a free throw.
Danville then scored six straight to get within three at 34-31.
Monica Dougherty hit two free throws to make it 36-33 before Siobhan Bross scored to cut the deficit to 36-33.
A Danielle Dougherty free throw made it 37-33, but the three by Renz with 16 seconds left had Danville within one.
Monica Dougherty led Athens with 15 and Dunkling had 12 in the game.
Danielle Dougherty and Danielle Stopper each had four points and Donnelly had three points.
Monica Dougherty had four assists and Stopper and Danielle Dougherty had three each, while Monica Dougherty had six steals and Donnelly had four steals.
Dunkling had a double-double adding 10 boards and Monica Dougherty had five boards, while Stopper and Danielle Dougherty each had four rebounds.
Renz led Danville with 17 and Bross had 11.
Renz had a doube-double adding 12 rebounds and two steals, while Kylie Romeo had four steals and five boards and Bross had five boards and four assists.
Athens will meet the District 2 third-place team either Friday or Saturday at a place to be determined in states and after Saturday's game Burkhart knows there is still room to improve.
"I think we need to learn from this," Burkhart said. "There is a lot we can learn from that fourth quarter."
Athens players are ready for the challenge of states.
"It's so exciting, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Dunkling said. "It's a great way to end my senior year."