Each of the Hillsdale College Chargers’ first 28 games this season ended after 40 minutes. Four quarters. But March is a time for madness, and in the postseason, one comes to expect the unexpected.
For the first time this season, the Chargers went to overtime on Tuesday against the University of Findlay, and prevailed with a 75 – 74 win in the quarterfinal round of the G‑MAC tournament. The win advances Hillsdale to the semifinal round, where Walsh University, the top seed in the conference, awaits for a 5:30 p.m. game on Friday.
The Chargers split the regular season series against Findlay, winning by more than 20 in Hillsdale but losing by a narrow margin on the road. Tuesday’s game in Findlay was as narrow as it could get.
After the Oilers tied the game at 69 with four seconds left in regulation, on Hillsdale’s first possession of overtime senior forward Brittany Gray hit a three-pointer. Hillsdale scored three more points at the free throw line, the last coming from senior guard Allie Dewire to break a 74 – 74 tie, was enough to give the Chargers the edge.
“Being able to close out an important game in a high stress situation shows how much we’ve grown over the season,” senior forward Makenna Ott said. “We’ve spent all year preparing for this type of game and situation and I’m proud of our defense and our ability to dig deep at the end.”
Dewire led the Chargers with 26 points, shooting 10 for 16 from the floor and five for nine from the free throw line. She also grabbed eight rebounds.
A free throw was ultimately what made the difference in the final score, but Hillsdale went just two for five from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, allowing Findlay a chance to force overtime.
“The coach in me tends to remember the negative and thinks if we made free throws we wouldn’t have had to play in overtime,” head coach Matt Fritsche said. “But right after the game I thought ‘Holy cow, our kids fought their tails off.’ After they made the shot to tie it, it would have been easy for our kids to think it wasn’t going our way. But our kids just dug in and guarded and they gutted it out.”
Gray scored 17 points, and made three three-pointers. Her 83 three-pointers this season are a new single-season record for Hillsdale.
“I’m not ready to be done with my career at Hillsdale. I have a mission to win the G‑MAC tournament and make a run in the NCAA tournament,” Gray said. “I don’t want to end my season with any regrets. I love my team and they deserve nothing but the best, so that’s what I’ll try to give them.”
Ott recorded a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, and also had a team-high four assists.
The combination of Dewire, Gray, and Ott scored 57 of Hillsdale’s 75 points and took 43 of the Chargers’ 60 shots from the floor. All three are in the top 10 in the G‑MAC in points per game, and are the only team with more than two players that average at least 13 points per game.
“At this time of year, having seniors that don’t want their season to be over is super important,” Fritsche said. “Allie and Makenna and Brittany have all been huge pieces. They’ve left a neat mark here at Hillsdale and I know they want to play a few more games. Those three took their focus and their effort to another level and it’s been pretty dang good all year.”
The Chargers shot 50 percent overall, their second time in three games making at least half their shots.
“The way we work offensively, we take what the other team is giving us,” Fritsche said. “Our kids were patient and found really good looks almost every time down.”
As the fifth seed in the G‑MAC tournament, Hillsdale’s win over fourth-seeded Findlay was the only game in the quarterfinal round of the tournament in which the lower seed defeated the higher seed. The top three teams remain, and the Chargers will travel to Walsh University to play Walsh on Friday. The semifinal round and championship game will both be hosted by Walsh, the top overall seed in the tournament.
Second-seeded Kentucky Wesleyan College will play third-seeded Cedarville University on Friday as well, and the winner of that game will play the winner of Hillsdale and Walsh in the championship on Saturday.
The Chargers played Walsh just once during the regular season, and lost on Dec. 8, 83 – 56. Hillsdale is a combined 1 – 4 against the three teams remaining in the tournament, with its only win coming against Cedarville on Feb. 2. The Chargers also lost to Cedarville once, and to Kentucky Wesleyan twice.
“They’re way different than they were so we probably won’t pay much attention to our game against them in December,” Fritsche said of Walsh. “We’re absolutely not the same team and you’d have to think they’ve changed somewhat too.”
Last season, the Chargers ran the table in the G‑MAC tournament as the no. 5 seed, upsetting three higher-ranked teams en route to a tournament championship win. This year, they’ve already knocked off no. 4 Findlay. This weekend will tell if they’ll write the same tale for a second consecutive year.
“We went from being a team that was mediocre to the team that people are scared to play,” Gray said. “I’m proud of how far this team has come. We were in the same position last year, and I feel confident in our ability to recreate that success. This team has always been special, and now it’s finally our turn to peak.”