Tippecanoe Valley senior Lily Ault splits a pair of defenders on her way to the basket during Tippecanoe Valley’s 54-33 loss to Fairfield in the first round of the IHSAA 3A Semi-State round at LaPorte High School. Photos by Gary Nieter
Tippecanoe Valley senior Lily Ault splits a pair of defenders on her way to the basket during Tippecanoe Valley’s 54-33 loss to Fairfield in the first round of the IHSAA 3A Semi-State round at LaPorte High School. Photos by Gary Nieter
LAPORTE - It may not have ended the way the Tippecanoe Valley Lady Vikings wanted, but players left the court after dropping their opening game of the Semi-State round 54-33 to Fairfield on Saturday afternoon with their heads held high.

“At the end of the season, every team except for four is feeling the way we’re feeling right now,” Valley head coach Chris Kindig said after the game. “The girls are doing okay. I think they’ve realized how much they’ve accomplished.”

The Fairfield defense, which gives up just 27 points a game, was on full display early and often. The Lady Vikings struggled getting anything going on offense as Falcon defenders swarmed ball handlers and were lightning quick in the passing lanes, deflecting and stealing a fair share of possessions away from Tippy Valley. The only offense Valley was able to muster in the first quarter were a pair of threes from senior sharpshooter Kaydence Mellott. The Indiana University Kokomo recruit was Valley’s main source of offense all game long, finishing with 15 points.

“Their defense was great but I felt it was more us not executing the things I know we can do,” Kindig said. “We really wanted to attack the low post but they made it really tough with their length. I thought we had a great game plan going in but it was one of those days where things didn’t click. I think if we had played this game last weekend at the regional our momentum we had would have made this a much closer game.”

Kindig used his first timeout halfway through the first quarter with his team trailing by five points. His defense would wake up after the quick break in action, holding the Falcons scoreless for the remainder of the first period. However, the team would not do any scoring of its own, causing the deficit to remain the same as the two sides geared up for the second period of action.

The quarter belonged to the Falcons. The Lady Vikings’ offensive struggles reached a boiling point, with the team unable to even get a shot up on most of their possessions over the first few minutes. On the other end though, Fairfield found little resistance in everything they tried to do. Falcon senior Brea Garber was everywhere. Fairfield’s leader in all five statistical categories was hitting shots from deep, inside and even sprinkled in some midrange. She was the catalyst of what ended up being a 13-0 Fairfield run.

“I always say that you have to play your best when your best is required,” Kindig remarked. “They certainly did that today. I’m hoping that this gives the girls a taste of what is required and motivates them to be back in this spot.”

Kindig’s side finally stopped the bleeding by scoring six straight points to inch a little closer, ending a nearly ten-minute drought without any points for Tippy Valley. Despite the efforts, the Falcons still held a 13-point advantage heading into halftime with a 25-12 lead.

Fairfield would put the finishing touches on the win in the first few minutes of the second half, going on another extended run (8-0) to extend its lead to more than 20 and put the game out of reach. Despite going down close to 30 points at one point and not having much working on offense, the Lady Vikings never quit. Freshman Gaby Gonzalez added a few points in the third quarter and senior Lily Ault made a pair of threes in the fourth to help bring Valley a little closer and make the final score much more respectable. The Valley seniors were not substituted out in the final few minutes of the game.

“We thought ‘Hey, this is your last go-around, let’s finish this thing with our heads held high.’ We didn’t play our best today but they continued to get after it. That’s how this group has operated all year,” Kindig said.

Four of Valley’s five seniors scored at least two points. The group leaves the program with back-to-back Three Rivers Conference championships as well as 68 wins over the last four seasons.

“They won us our second regional in school history. They continued the culture that we’ve built here. These girls never hesitated to talk to and help the younger girls in our program. Four of them are going to finish in the top-ten of their class. I’ve got the co-valedictorian on my team. That says it all about this group. Good on the basketball court, good in the community. Just good people,” Kindig said.

The Lady Vikings will return next season with a talented group of underclassmen from this year’s team as well as players coming up from a junior varsity team that went 19-1 this past season.

“We found out a lot about our underclassmen in the last five games of the year,” Kindig said. “I’m really excited for what this group will accomplish next season. They came a long way.”