Circleville Tigers basketball
Derrick Webb

Derrick Webb

Derrick is SOSA's chief content coordinator and has worked for the Chillicothe Gazette, the Portsmouth Daily Times and Eleven Warriors. He's a 13-time award-winning journalist, a self-proclaimed baseball purist, a suffering Bengals fan and has never met a stranger.

Circleville guts out win over Bloom-Carroll, claims outright MSL-Buckeye title

The Tigers now stand at 20-0.

CIRCLEVILLE — To put it bluntly, at one point on Saturday, Circleville’s chances to clinch an outright Mid-State League championship looked to be slim to none.

With 2:40 left in the second quarter, Bloom-Carroll had just polished off a 17-0 run to take a commanding 20-7 lead with one of the conference’s best scorers — Emily Bratton — leading the charge.

But coach Brian Bigam’s Tigers didn’t seem phased. In fact, they never seemed to flinch.

Instead, they stayed the course, found their lunch pails and went right back to work. A mix of grit, toughness and determination allowed Circleville (20-0, 13-0 MSL) to complete an improbable comeback and — eventually — gut out a 34-33 victory over the Bulldogs to clinch the crown.

Circleville coach Brian Bigam reacts to the team’s comeback win over Bloom-Carroll on Saturday. The Tigers clinched the outright MSL-Buckeye championship.
CREDIT: Derrick Webb/SOSA

“I tell the girls all the time that the biggest compliment I can get as their coach is how tough they play,” Bigam said. “We weren’t pretty tonight. I don’t know what it was early. We weren’t reversing the basketball, we were forcing shots up and we had double-digit turnovers. But in that second half, we were gritty. We got after it and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Bratton, who averages 21.3 points per night, scored 11 in the first half to help her Bulldogs (17-5, 11-3 MSL) take an early lead. But she was held to just a single point in the final two quarters.

“Give [Bloom-Carroll] credit,” Bigam said. “We didn’t execute and play some of those possessions in the first half like we were supposed to. They made us pay. Bratton is going to Miami [University] for a reason. We got nosy inside one time and she got us, and we didn’t get out and contest. But in the second half, we extended out more and made them a little uncomfortable. We did a better job of defending the ball-screen.”

Meanwhile, Circleville’s Maddie Blakeman and Gabby McConnell took the game’s fate into their own hands.

The Tigers’ duo combined to finish with 25 points and were dominant down the stretch and did their damage inside the paint, willing their teammates back into the game.

PHOTOS: Images from Circleville’s win over Bloom-Carroll

“Those two have to be able to score the basketball and play like they did in the second half if we’re going to have success,” Bigam said. “I’m so proud of them and, realistically, I don’t think they’re pleased with their first half performance. But they came out [in the second half] and did what they should’ve. They did what they needed to in order to win a big game like that.”

Tale of the tape

Bratton began the contest with a 3-ball before Circleville’s Ally Thornsley answered on the other end. Thornsley’s bucket sparked a 7-0 run, aided by two free throws from Faith Yancey and a 3 from Maddie Blakeman, making it 7-3 with 5:26 to go in the first quarter.

Blakeman’s 3 was the last points the Tigers scored until the 2:16 mark in the second — a span of over 11 minutes of game time. Meanwhile, Bloom-Carroll started a run of its own.

Emma Sorrell and Natalie Lang finished off the first with three straight scores, making it 9-7 after one, before Bratton flushed back-to-back triples to begin the second, producing a 15-7 tally.

Bratton scored again with 3:22 to go before Marissa Wilkinson banged in a trifecta to finish off a 17-0 run and give the Bulldogs a 20-7 lead with 2:40 remaining in the first half.

The Tigers stopped the run with a free throw from McConnell at the 2:16 mark before the senior followed it up with an old-fashioned three-point play, producing a 20-11 count at halftime.

“At halftime, I challenged them,” Bigam said. “I said, ‘Ladies, we already have a piece of the league [title]. Just go play.’ I always tell them that my biggest fear in life is looking back and saying, ‘What if.’ I don’t want to have regrets. So I told them they didn’t want to have regrets about this night. Just go out there and see what happens.”

McConnell began the third with another bucket before Wilkinson answered with her second 3 of the evening. However, McConnell’s play gave Circleville confidence and, after Wilkinson’s bucket, that faith started to shine through.

Blakeman scored just before Yancey followed suit to cut the deficit to 23-17. Blakeman added a pair of freebies with 4:13 left and McConnell finished a 7-0 run with a free throw, making it 23-20.

Circleville’s Isabelle Perini attempts to score during Saturday’s contest.
CREDIT: Derrick Webb/SOSA

Wilkinson again stopped the bleeding with a 3 but Circleville kept its foot on the gas pedal.

After going into the fourth trailing 27-22, Blakeman and McConnell made it 27-26 with back-to-back buckets. The Tigers then took a 28-27 lead when Yancey went coast-to-coast for a score at the 6:23 mark in the fourth.

With 3:58 remaining, Blakeman gave Circleville the lead for good at 30-29. She scored again with 2:36 left before McConnell made it 34-32 with 1:01 to go. On the other end, Sorrell split a pair at the charity stripe, producing what was eventually the night’s final.

Bloom-Carroll had one final possession, and a chance to win, with 4.1 seconds remaining. But a 3-ball fell short of the mark and handed Circleville its outright league crown.

“These girls deserve to play in front of crowds like we played in front of tonight,” Bigam said. “Some of that energy, the fans, our girls fed into that. Once we started clawing back … we made them call a timeout early in the third quarter … you could see it in their eyes and in their body language. I started to feel better.”

Stat book

Wilkinson led Bloom-Carroll’s scoring efforts with 14 points while Bratton added 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. Sorrell also helped out, adding five points and six boards.

Blakeman paced Circleville with 15 points and four boards while McConnell finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three helpers. Yancey chipped in as well, tallying six points, five rebounds and two assists.

What’s on tap

Bloom-Carroll’s regular season slate has reached its end. The Bulldogs will now shift their focus to tournament play, where they’ll meet with Whitehall-Yearling in a Division II sectional final on Feb. 24.

The Tigers still have two regular season contests remaining and a tournament game in between.

Monday, they’ll travel to Teays Valley, attempting to finish off a perfect MSL-Buckeye season before meeting with either Washington or Vinton County in a Division II sectional final on Thursday at Zane Trace.

Then, on Saturday, Circleville will meet with Chillicothe in a non-league matchup before — possibly — playing in a district semifinal the following week.

“Our offense hasn’t been that smooth lately. We work on it and we’re trying to figure out what gives us the best chance to score,” Bigam said. “I think that’s where the most improvement needs to take place. We have to be able to adjust now. We’re sometimes forcing things that aren’t there. We have to clean that up and not turn the ball over as much.”

Circleville’s Maddie Blakeman shoots during Saturday’s win over Bloom-Carroll.
CREDIT: Derrick Webb/SOSA

Bloom-Carroll: 9-11-7-6 — 33

Circleville: 7-4-11-12 — 34

Bloom-Carroll: 11-46 FG, 4-11 FT, 7-28 3pt., 20 rebounds (Bratton 6, Sorrell 6), 14 turnovers, 10 assists (Bratton 4). Scoring: Wilkinson 14, Bratton 12, Sorrell 5, Lang 2.

Circleville: 13-30 FG, 7-11 FT, 1-9 3pt., 24 rebounds (McConnell 7), 21 turnovers, 9 assists (McConnell 3). Scoring: Blakeman 15, McConnell 10, Yancey 6, Thornsley 2, Perini 1.


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