Rockets' dream run ends just short of regionals

Three years ago, Oak Harbor lost in the district finals on a buzzer beater. This year, they lost in overtime.

It was an unfortunate way for this senior class to finish out their careers, but it can't put a damper on one of the best season in the program's history.

The Rockets lost to Clyde, 49-41, in overtime on Saturday in the Division II district finals, falling after coming back from a nine-point deficit to take the lead for the second time in the fourth quarter when Ashley Riley hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 2:40 remaining in regulation to put Oak Harbor ahead 38-36. That followed two 3s from Abby Dornbusch, the first of which tied the game at 32 early in the fourth, and the second that gave Oak Harbor a 35-34 lead with 3:41 to play.

Flier point guard Heidi Marshall drove and converted on a shot with 2:15 left to tie it at 38, though she may have gotten away with a double dribble in the process. From there, neither team would score, sending the game into overtime.

Clyde center Addie Martin hit a straightaway jumper from 14 feet with 3:25 remaining in overtime to put ahead for good at 40-39 after Logan Harris had made a free throw to open the extra session.

The Rockets finish the season 21-4 while Clyde improves to 22-3.

"This team showed the grit and toughness they have shown all year. Being down in a very meaningful game, many teams will panic and get away from what they do best," said Oak Harbor coach Tom Kontak. "Our players stayed composed, fought for some defensive stops and kept moving the ball to nail down some open outside shots.

"We held Clyde to 38 points thru four quarters. The difference in the game was the second-chance points we gave up and the short-range baskets we did not finish. All these aspects of the game are magnified in such a close game. It's not anything players do intentionally, it's just sometimes we all get caught up in the emotion of the game and miss some assignments, almost trying too hard.

"I'm not sure people outside of Oak Harbor know what this group has done in getting to 21 wins and playing for a district title with our graduations and our injuries early (in the season). To be with these kids every day and see what they do, that's what high-school athletics is all about. We're fortunate to be representing our school."

The Rockets have won four consecutive sectional titles and made it to the district finals in three of the last four years. Two of those games ended in tough losses while the other was a close victory that earned Oak Harbor a spot at regionals for the first time in 25 years. Kontak, who has coached in seven district championship games, losing a number of them in close fashion, knows all about the fine line between winning and losing in big games.

"District finals are closely contested games -- there is a fine line between winning and losing," he said. Bottom line, if you are a fan of high-school sports, that game had it all: huge crowds from both communities, back-and-forth scoring, clutch shots, intense and tough play by both teams, and of course, overtime. It doesn't get any more exciting than that."

Dornbusch and Logan Harris led Oak Harbor, which finished 21-4, with 12 points apiece. Sophie Eli had six points, as did Maddy Rathbun, who also grabbed 13 rebounds in her final game. It was also the final game for Emma Bergman and Makayla Wagner. Emma Barney, the fourth senior who started during her first three years, worked hard to come back from a torn ACL suffered during soccer season, but was unable to play in the game after re-tearing the ligament against Rogers in the district semifinals.

"These seniors -- Maddy Rathbun, Emma Barney, Emma Bergman and Makayla Wagner -- have given so much to the program in their own special way. They have been role models to the younger players with their daily examples of toughness, attitude, work ethic and commitment," said Kontak. "The rest of us are better people having spent the last four years with them."

It's been quite a last ride for the senior class, which has played 100 games together while going 81-19 (.810) and winning four sectional titles, a district championship and a league title. Their body of work is Exhibit A for just how much they've done for the program and where it's come.

Barney, who only played in just nine games, wasn't the only player to come back this season after recently suffering a torn ACL. Dornbusch suffered the same fate during track season and returned on Jan. 3. And Rathbun only played in one game last season after tearing her ACL during soccer season.

"From the very day Abby got injured and then when Emma got injured, we told both of them we loved them and that we would be there for them 24/7. Then we took on a group mentality that 'no one was going to feel sorry for us' and this situation, though very unfortunate, was an opportunity to see who would step up," said Kontak. "We decided as a group that this adversity was not going to break us. And we followed the theme that 'tough times don't last, but tough people do.' Eventually, both Abby and Emma returned to help us in the regular season and the tournament.

"We tried to deal with this adversity head on, staying positive and as encouraging as possible. Overall, I would say we all, players and coaches are better people for having worked through these tough times together."

Oak Harbor 56, Rogers 55 (OT)

The loss to Clyde followed what was arguably the biggest victory in program history as the Rockets defeated Rogers, 56-55, in the district semifinals.

The Rams, who had advanced as far as the regional finals in each of the last four years, highlighted by two appearances in the Final Four, including a trip to the state championship game two years ago, are one of the best programs in Ohio.

But they were undone by a gritty, resilient group that was led by center Logan Harris, who had the game of her life while scoring 29 points and grabbing nine rebounds, including the game's final rebound with 17 seconds remaining and the Rockets holding a one-point lead.

She took control from the outset and would not be denied, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and had 18 at halftime.

It was an exciting game from start to finish, one that saw Oak Harbor jump out to a 15-5 lead and hold an advantage for nearly the entire four quarters, only to see Rogers hang around before tying the game at 43 on a 3-pointer by Zia Cooke with 2:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. A runner by Abby Dornbusch was answered with two free throws from Cooke, and after both teams failed to score, the game went into overtime. In the extra session, there were two ties and six lead changes with the Rockets, who were 9-of-12 from the charity stripe in the game's final four minutes, taking the lead for good on two free throws by Dornbusch with 26.1 seconds left.

"I thought we did a great job of taking the fight to Rogers," said Kontak. "We talked about that in practice."

Harris' frontcourt mate, Maddy Rathbun, who stands just 5-8 despite playing in the post, had another workmanlike performance, scoring 10 points to go with 11 rebounds and five assists. Freshman Sophie Eli, who opened the game with a 3-pointer, scored nine points, all of them coming on shots beyond the arc, and played tough defense throughout. And Dornbusch came up with some key plays, especially in overtime.

"Logan was determined to put the ball in the basket tonight. She got us off to a great start," Kontak said. "Maddy is pound-for-pound the toughest competitor I have seen. She's outsized and determined and we needed every bit of that. Fortunately, Sophie doesn't listen to her coach. If she did listen, she's be more conservative. No great player is conservative. She was fearless, she was clutch."

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