OTTAWA — The trophy belonged to Ottoville again. And the fact the game had been decided long ago did nothing to lessen the celebration when the final buzzer sounded.
No. 7 Ottoville beat No. 8 Arlington for the second time this season to win the Division IV girls basketball district championship at Ottawa-Glandorf, 45-34, on Saturday afternoon.
It was the second district championship in the last three years for the Big Green. In between those two championships was a one-point loss to Arlington in last year’s district title game.
Whether it was a little bit of being in the moment, a little bit of remembering last year or a combination of both, Ottoville felt like this win was something exceptional.
“I feel like it’s 10 times more exciting. I don’t know what it is, but this team is just something special,” senior guard Brooke Mangas said when comparing this year’s district championship to Ottoville’s 2015 district win.
“They were a really good team so we knew we had to come out really strong. We played our hearts out,” she said.
Mangas and Bridget Landin each scored 10 points to lead Ottoville (22-3). Sierra Nichols led Arlington (22-4) with 12 points.
The Red Devils played without career 1,000-point scorer Whitney Dodds after the senior guard suffered a shoulder injury late in a district semifinal win over North Baltimore.
Early on, Arlington was able to compensate for its missing star and led 8-6 after one quarter when Ottoville’s starting lineup did not score in the first eight minutes of the game.
But Ottoville took a 19-13 halftime lead and opened the second half with an 11-2 run to go up 30-15. Its lead hit 17 points late in the third quarter and the final 11-point margin was as close as Arlington got the rest of the way.
“Starting out, we didn’t shoot really well but the defense was good enough to keep us in the game,” Ottoville coach Dave Kleman said.
Substitutes Madison Knodell and Kasey Knippen hit 3-pointers for the only points for Ottoville in the first quarter. Those were the first of seven 3-pointers for the Big Green.
Kleman called the question of how Dodds’ absence might affect both Arlington and his team “a major concern.”
“That was a real concern of mine with Dodds being hurt. A lot of times you can overcome one game with the emotion if an injured person is out. But in the long run it’s tougher,” he said.
Landin said Ottoville was careful not to relax with one of Arlington’s leaders not playing.
“We told ourselves not to let that get to us and still play strong, still play our game,” she said.
Ottoville has not lost to a Division IV team yet this season. Its three losses were against Division II Ottawa-Glandorf, Division II Bath and Division III Columbus Grove.
Next up is a trip to the Division IV regional at Elida at 8 p.m. Thursday against Buckeye Central.
Kleman said Ottoville played this season as a one step at a time situation rather than feeling pressure to win another district title with an experienced team that includes two seniors who have started four years (Mangas and Alicia Honigford) and a junior who has started three years (Landin).
“I think in the back of their minds they felt it, but we kind of try to stress the journey we’re having with each other. You don’t want to focus so much on the end and then you miss all the stuff that’s happening,” he said.
Honigford said, “There is always pressure. Everybody plays well when it comes to tournament time. You just have to play your best and put your team together and that’s all you can hope for.”