When 5-foot-6 senior guard Olivia Besancon made a running 3-point shot at the buzzer Saturday she punched the Smithville girls basketball team’s ticket to the state tournament with a 38-36 win over Beachwood in a Division III regional final at Cuyahoga Falls.
Besancon’s heroics put Smithville in a semifinal game against Columbus Africentric at 1 p.m. Friday at Ohio State University’s Value City Arena.
The Smithies’ (26-2) ability to adjust to injuries is another reason why they have advanced to play the Nubians (25-2) for a berth in the state championship game.
“We played Beachwood in the regional final and it ended up being a real exciting ballgame right down to the finish,” Smithville coach Mike Miller said. “Olivia Besancon hit a big 3-pointer at the buzzer to send us to Columbus. We have been very fortunate. This is our third time in five years and fifth for our school overall.”
Miller said the Smithies are doing this without junior Rachel Gerber, a key defender and scorer who is out with a stress fracture suffered during the final week of the season. She missed the final two regular-season games and all six postseason games.
“Rachel has been great,” Miller said. “She has been at every practice and game encouraging the girls.”
Senior Kylie Snell was inserted into the starting lineup in Gerber’s absence. Snell, a 5-7 forward, grabbed a rebound off a missed Beachwood free throw Saturday and then passed the ball to Besancon, who dribbled the length of the court through defenders and buried the game-winner.
“It has been a season where we altered things several times,” Miller said. “Our point guard, [5-4 senior] Adriana Fike, who has been a four-year starter and played in Columbus two years ago, was out with a soccer injury. We lost her during the preseason and five weeks total. Once she got back we had to readjust and then we lost Rachel and we had to readjust again.
“Obviously you want to go as far as you can in the tournament. We have always been a program who takes it one game at a time. … Things have fallen into place and we won some big ballgames and find ourselves in Columbus.”
Miller said he and his staff instilled “confidence in the other girls” as roles changed.
Seniors Macy McKelley and Natalie Indermuhle, both 5-11, join Besancon, Snell and Fike in the starting lineup.
“Adriana Fike is a four-year starter,” Miller said. “She is a true point guard [averages 5.5 points per game]. She runs our offense and is our team leader in assists that can also score. She shoots 38 percent on the year from the 3-point arc and 62 percent from 2s, so she is 50 percent from the field and a 75 percent foul shooter.”
Besancon leads the team with a 14.8 points per game average.
“Olivia has been a great 3-point shooter for us,” Miller said. “She shot 46 percent last year and is at 41 percent this year. She is almost an 80 percent foul shooter. She has had an outstanding career for us.”
Indermuhle averages 12.1 points per game, McKelly 8.3 and Snell 3.2.
“Natalie at the 5 spot is probably the most-improved player in our area,” Miller said. “She is a very strong and athletic kid, and probably the best pure athlete we have.”
Miller praised Snell for being a “good shooter from the 12-to-15-foot range and a good defender” and said McKelley is “the team leader at 81 percent from the foul line.”
Top Smithville reserves are junior Leia Miller, sophomore Emily Horst, sophomore Lauren Erickson, freshman Jordan McConnell and sophomore Kennedy Kull.
Sizing up Africentric
Africentric was state runner-up in 2013 after winning state titles in 2009 and 2012. The Nubians were also in the state bracket in 2007 and 2008.
“We have faced teams with different sizes,” said Miller, who is in his 18th year. “I think the biggest thing with Africentric obviously is they have 6-2 senior Alexa Hart inside [14.9 points per game]. We will have to deal with her and they have a lot of experience with their perimeter people. We played them two years ago. They are every athletic and quick. We have to do a good job inside and closing out on their shooters.”
Seniors Alexis Parks, Darianne Seward, Ayrielle Stith and Kyra Jones start with Hart for coach William McKinney. Parks and Seward are both 5-5. Stith and Jones are 5-7.
Smithville has also made state appearances in 1978, 2004, 2010 and 2012.
The Smithies have wins over Triway, Norwayne, Manchester, Orrville, Canfield South Range and Beachwood in the postseason this year.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.