CHRISMAN -- The three Okaw Valley senior girls' basketball players - Paige Robinson, Natalie Jeffers and Hope Ruppert - received the long, sought after Class 1A regional championship plaque Thursday after the Lady Timberwovles beat Central A&M 52-38. It was Okaw Valley's first regional title since Bethany and Findlay schools consolidated prior to the 2001-02. Bethany won the only other regional title in girls' basketball in 1979-80.
Okaw Valley never trailed in the game in what as the third meeting between the two schools located 16 miles apart that had to travel over an hour and half to play the game. The Lady Raiders beat the Lady Timberwolves 42-33 Nov. 18 in the Pana Thanksgiving Tournament and a week later Okaw Valley earned third place in the same tournament with a 45-35 victory.
"Central A&M is a team that is known throughout the state," said Jeffers. "They always have a great program and great coaches and you know I just feel like it shows how much discipline we have. We didn't get too big of a head from our win earlier and played the way we know how. I think it is a testament to our coaches keeping us focused in practice and all of the younger girls pushing us in drills. It was a great win."
The third time was the charm for Okaw Valley, who lost last year's regional title game 70-59 to Central A&M and lost to Chrisman on the same Roger Beals Court 56-43 in 2016.
"I just think it is about time we finally got one," said Robinson, who was the first to cut down a strand of the net followed by all of the players and coaches. "This group of girls have been working our tails off and the seniors have been working our tails of for four years now."
As seventh graders, Okaw Valley finished fourth in the state.
"We are going to try and make another state run," said Robinson, who led all players with 26 points and 17 rebounds. Jeffers was also in double digits with 11 points and the Lady Timberwolves finished with a 48-31 advantage on the boards.
"I have got three seniors that have started with me for three years," said an elated Okaw Valley coach Brad Ackers. "They have a will to win. They have been an absolute dream to coach and I am just so proud that I could get them over the hump because they deserve it. For my money and I am a little biased, but Paige has been the best player in the extended area the last two years.
"I can't say enough about Natalie Jeffers, who had not touched a basketball since last Friday or gone to school and I could not be more proud of her. Double figures against Central A&M and and defending without playing basketball or going to school is unbelievable. Hope Ruppert has never gotten the credit she deserves because her length and her hands are as good as anybody's. She doesn't put up the offensive numbers, but she is as good defensively in the area. I am just so happy for the team."
Robinson came up with a big block of a layup with Okaw Valley leading 15-7 and Rupper scored after the blocked shot for a 17-7 advantage. Okaw Valley led by as much as 14 in the first half, taking a 21-7 lead on one of two free throws by Ruppert. Central A&M outscored the Lady Timberwolves 12-4 in the final 2:41, including a long three-pointer at the buzzer by Taryn Sams, the lone Central A&M senior, who finished with a team-high 18 points. Okaw Valley's lead was down to 25-19 at the break.
Okaw Valley started hot form the field in the first 6:44 making five of its first nine field goals, including three pointers by Jeffers and Bella Benning. The Lady Timberwolves man-to-man defense held Central A&M to 2-of-19 (10.5 percent) shooting from the field in the first 11:18.
"That was a big three from Sams and we could not let them have the momentum," said Robinson. "We came out strong and held them."
Central A&M stayed within eight points after the third quarter and were down 43-36 with 2:29 left when Okaw Valley put the game away with two free throws by Robinson, who was 10-of-11 from the line, and a bucket by Kate Jeffers on a pass from Benning pushed the lead to 11 with just 1:37 remaining.
"I knew I just needed to be as aggressive as I can be," said Robinson, who is to play and attend Drury University next school year. "Central A&M is an amazing team. Everybody had to go and work their heart out against them because you know they are going to work their hardest against us."
As for Okaw Valley's defense Ackers said, "The girls did a good job of listening to the game plan in terms of personal. We didn't do anything crazy. That is a testament to them. That is just our girls' wanting it."
Okaw Valley 26-5, is to play Altamont, a 56-51 winner over North Clay, Monday at 6 p.m. at North Clay in Louisville. Altamont beat Okaw Valley 49-45 earlier this season on Dec. 7.