NEW ALBANY – Hannah Duncan did not make the big shot Wednesday night. She did not nail the go-ahead three or the game-clinching free throws.
The senior shooting guard finished with 2 points. But in a game where every possession mattered, Danville couldn’t have won without her.
It was her grit; her hustle; her fearless edge that pushed Danville past Delaware Christian in the Div. IV district semifinals. The senior emerged from the postgame locker room with floor burns (if there was a loose ball, she got it) and a black eye (courtesy of an opposing elbow, which kept her out just three minutes).
She also emerged with a smile.
“I thought she led us in terms of effort and attitude tonight. I thought she had a great game – can’t really quantify it, but she had a great game,” Blue Devil coach Matt Proper said. “And she has the black eye to prove it.”
Danville discarded Delaware Christian, 50-45, at New Albany High School on Wednesday night. The Blue Devils advanced to the district finals for the first time since 2017, having fallen in the semifinals the last two seasons. They will face Fairfield Christian Academy in the district championship on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Ohio Dominican University.
Duncan’s grit set the tone for Danville on a night where seasons – and careers – hung in the balance.
The Blue Devils found themselves down 41-33 with 5:25 left. Instead of sulking or surrendering, however, Danville dug in.
After all-state forward CeCe Newbold hit two free throws, Duncan found Brooklyn Hess for a back-door lay-in. Newbold muscled in a bank shot to make it 41-39 with 4:20 remaining.
The final few minutes were chaos. The game turned increasingly physical; every possession was critical.
Hess, Danville’s sophomore point guard, buried a wing three with 2:48 remaining to cut the deficit to 1. Then the Blue Devils’ patented 1-2-2 press paid off: Newbold stole the ball from Delaware Christian in the backcourt and passed it ahead to Bobbi Berger, whose layup gave Danville its first lead since the third quarter.
The Blue Devils would never surrender the lead again.
They knocked down free throws and forced two contested threes in the final minute to escape with the win.
As the final buzzer sounded, the sizeable Danville contingent that traveled an hour through the snow to watch the game roared. The players hugged at mid-court, and Proper let out a sigh of relief.
“For three quarters, I thought they outworked us. And we happened to pull it together in the fourth quarter, even with some adversity…” Proper said. “The fourth quarter came around and we decided we wanted it. It’s just that mindset. We pulled together right when we needed to and it was enough, luckily. Sometimes it’s not.”
Danville finished the game with two of its starters on the bench. Duncan fouled out with three minutes left, and Newbold did the same at the 1:49 mark.
Proper credited his reserves for stepping up and getting the job done late.
“The bench – that’s what we always say, we’ve gotta have every one of you. We had to play with two of our starters on the bench with five fouls, and somehow still got it done,” Proper said. “That’s the name of the game at this point, survive and advance.”
Hess and Erin Mickley both led Danville with 14 points on Wednesday night. Newbold had 8, while Berger tallied 7. All-state senior Lyssi Snouffer led Delaware Christian with 26 points, while Abbi Maurer recorded 13 for the Eagles.
“They played well. Tempo changed the last two minutes, it got really physical and we just didn’t match it,” Delaware Christian coach Jackie Boggs said. “[The officials] allowed it to be physical – which is fine, that’s their call. But we didn’t match it and that was the difference in the game.”
Danville’s main objective defensively on Wednesday was to limit Snouffer, a three-sport all-Ohioan who recently committed to play volleyball and basketball at D-II Cedarville University. Snouffer’s exceptional athleticism and motor make her nearly unstoppable in the post, as she can finish and rebound over multiple defenders.
Even with Newbold in foul trouble, Danville found ways to keep Snouffer at bay. The Blue Devils fronted the post and sent a quick double team from the back side. They used multiple defenders to try to keep Snouffer off the glass.
The senior still managed to tally a double-double, and she scored 13 of her 26 points in the third quarter. But it was by no means an easy night for Snouffer.
“It was a hard game for her because she was getting beat on. And she always does,” Boggs said. “That’s every game, just because you have to, to stop her.”
While Duncan provided the spiritual leadership for Danville on Wednesday night, Mickley provided the offensive firepower early. The forward knocked down three three-pointers in the first half to give Danville a 23-19 lead going into the locker room.
Mickley was one of several Danville seniors to impact the game, which Proper said is a testament to the group’s leadership.
“That’s what we ask of our seniors,” Proper said. “What we’re really looking for when we say ‘leadership’ is confidence. That leadership exudes confidence… When you’re playing with confidence, everybody else can play with confidence.”
Hess said she felt that confidence on Wednesday, and she hopes it will carry over into Saturday’s district title game against Fairfield Christian Academy. The Knights and Blue Devils have met three times in the tournament since 2016, with Fairfield Christian winning twice. The Knights beat Danville by 35 points in the district semis last February.
Fairfield Christian is coming off a 49-37 win over East Knox on Wednesday night. Danville beat East Knox twice this season – by 14 points and 8 points, respectively.
“We’ll watch some film tomorrow and just kind of go from there,” Proper said. “We’ll reset mentally and physically, and be ready to go Saturday.”
For now, though, Danville will enjoy its second postseason win of 2020. It didn’t come easy – it took some grit, and a few big shots – but the Blue Devils got it done.
On Saturday, they’ll play for the opportunity to cut down the nets.
“I think it says that we’re strong mentally…” said Hess, when asked about her team’s performance. “Coach was telling us, ‘It’s do or die, so you’ve gotta pick it up.’ And we did.”