INDIANAPOLIS — And exhale.
Michigan City Marquette Catholic girls basketball coach Katie Collignon said she can finally breathe, although her team didn't make it easy on her.
"There's 55 seconds to go and it's a two-point game and Sophia (Nolan) is over here like 'let's just have fun.' I'm thinking, 'my goodness, I hope you're having fun because I'm not having a lot of fun over here,'" Collignon said. "Both hands were on my head and that was the biggest exhale of my life.
"I've smiled for the last 15 minutes."
Not having faced much adversity in the postseason, the Blazers were staring it down with the Nolan sisters having three fouls apiece by halftime of Saturday's Class A state championship game against Vincennes Rivet.
Despite Sophia sitting on the bench the entire third quarter, the Blazers (27-2) maintained a lead for nearly 22 minutes of their 38-31 win. Tied at 31 in the closing minutes, No. 1 Marquette owned the last 2:04 scoring the last seven to seal the victory over No. 2 Vincennes Rivet, securing the program's first state crown at Banker's Life Fieldhouse.
"The girls did a great job down stretch staying in it and a great job keeping composure down the stretch and finishing what needed to be done," Collignon said. "Obviously how we played today wasn't 'Plan A' but luckily we had some players come off the bench and step up for us. It really took all the girls today to pull out the victory.
"I spent most of last year's semistate game telling them to believe we're going to win and I didn't have to do that (Saturday). It's a different confidence about us and it's about knowing you put the work in and that you're meant to be here and ready to own this moment. In that last minute, we've fallen apart in moments like that before, but I have juniors now."
Both teams struggled to find the mark in the first half with the Blazers shooting 34.8 percent and the Patriots, 14.3 percent.
"Nerves always get to you in a game like this," Marquette guard Morgan Crook said. "Once we weren't hitting shots, we had to stop forcing up far shots and get layups. We had to take our time and run our offense and work for good shots instead of taking those first couple looks."
Rivet committed nine turnovers to Marquette's seven in the first half, totaling 13 and 11 for the game, respectively. The Patriots shot 8-of-46 from the field, held scoreless for 8:03 spanning the second and third quarter.
"I thought our effort was great on defense," Collignon said. "We knew coming in they like to attack and we wanted to get layups and not give up layups. We wanted to know where (Grace Waggoner) was because she's an excellent player and so is (Tia Tolbert). We really keyed on them."
Rivet's offense, which had been ice cold, briefly got hot as Tolbert scored seven straight to tie the game at 24. A 3-pointer by Claire Salyer put the Blazers up heading into the final frame. Salyer scored eight of her nine points in the third.
Rivet's leading scorer Waggoner scored four straight to force a brief tie at 31-31. Sophia Nolan's basket off a designed play from Emma Nolan proved to be the difference maker. Sophia led the team with 12 points and seven rebounds. Emma had eight points and seven rebounds.
"The bag of tricks was pulled out I'd say, a little more than usual," Collignon said. "That play was drawn up for two points. Normally we're open on that first side and Vincennes did a great job really making us work for a good shot. I told them the first side wasn't gonna be there, but it would be there on the third side and they did a good job being patient and it opened up and our girls did a great job finishing."
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Rivet resorted to fouling, sending Emmery Joseph to the line. She knocked down both, as the moment sunk in.
"I have a mantra I go through when I shoot my free throws and I focus and block everything out," Joseph said. "I just wanted to get these two and play defense and pull the game out."
Waggoner led the Patriots (26-3) with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Tolbert added 11 and eight.
"We got within two and got a good look at the basket and the ball just didn't fall," Rivet coach Rick Marshall said. "The closing minute is not conclusive of what this game was about. Our girls made it close and we gave it our shot, the shot just wasn't good enough."