The 10-point lead had vanished, leaving the rest of Franklin High School’s girls basketball season very much in question.
And then, with 2:25 remaining and his Wildcats trailing Monroe 34-33 in a Division II sectional title game Monday night at Lebanon, John Rossi called a timeout.
“We saw a different look in our kids. We saw something different in their eyes,” he said. “We saw kids that wanted to be coached. They wanted somebody to be positive with them. They wanted to let me know that, ‘Hey, we’ve got this.’ ”
Skyler Weir buried a 3-pointer, Emily Newton scored in the lane and Layne Ferrell added a free throw in a 6-point, 50-second surge, and Franklin was on its way to a 44-39 victory.
The fifth-seeded Wildcats improved to 18-6 and are headed to the district finals for the first time since 1997-98. They will meet Carroll at 9:30 p.m. on Friday at Mason Arena.
“We’ve never had this feeling,” said Weir, a junior guard. “We won our seventh- and eighth-grade year, but going to districts, I never expected that to happen with us. And if we can do that this year, I can’t even imagine what we can do next year.”
“Last year playing D-I we only made it to the second round, but now that we’re back in D-II, I think we have a chance to go far,” added Ferrell, also a junior guard. “It’s just crazy when all your teammates are playing together and they’re all hitting shots. It feels good.”
Ferrell had 18 points, 20 rebounds and five assists and became the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer with 1,388 points. That’s 11 ahead of 2010 graduate Brandi McDaniel.
Weir tossed in 12 points on four treys and Brooke Stover added 7 points for Franklin, which split with Monroe during the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division season.
“It was a heavyweight fight,” Rossi said. “We knew it was going to be physical. We tried to tell the kids we wanted to turn it into eight four-minute wars, and we felt like we won the first five of them.
“We knew Monroe would make a run. They’re good. They’re not going to go away. Our kids were just very resilient. Earlier in the year, I think they would’ve doubted our coaches and the decisions that we were making. They showed a lot of poise and a lot of character by just staying engaged with it.”
The Hornets were down 42-39 and had the ball with 5.5 seconds remaining, but turned it over on an in-bounds play. Stover’s two free throws then clinched the win for the Wildcats with 2.8 on the clock.
Olivia Wells-Daniels tallied 9 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter for Monroe (17-7), the No. 4 seed. Sophie Sloneker chipped in 14 points.
“I’m really proud of our girls fighting back to take the lead,” Hornets coach Chad Allen said. “We just couldn’t get a stop there at the end.”
Monroe was able to fight back with the pressure defense that’s become its staple. Early in the game, that didn’t go so well.
“We had a lot of fouls called against us in the first half, so we had to back the press off,” Allen said. “There was no rhythm there on offense at all. We couldn’t do anything defensively. Every time we did something, we were fouling. We played better in the second half as far as being in our spots without fouling.”
The high-water mark for Franklin was a 24-14 advantage early in the third quarter. But with 2:41 left, the Hornets grabbed their third — and final — lead of the night on a layup by Wells-Daniels.
Faced with that 34-33 deficit, Weir’s 3-pointer from the corner was true. It was her sixth trey in the postseason.
“It felt even better today than it did the last time I played,” Weir said. “Honestly, there were two shots that I could’ve taken, but I thought it was better to just take it out and get it back to Jordan (Rogers), our point guard.
“But then there were some shots that I knew I needed to take to get us back in the lead, so I took ’em and they went in. I’m just going to keep doing that. It’s working for me.”
Allen called Weir “the X-factor” in the game.
“She’s a nice role player,” he said. “We harped on it all week. She’s going to be in the corner … don’t leave her. We left her those times, and she hit four 3s. That’s a credit to her and a credit to them for getting the ball to her. We’ve got to be better coached to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The Wildcats were 12 of 20 at the foul line, while Monroe was 12 of 19.
Newton hauled in six rebounds, Kaylee Harris had five and Rogers added four for Franklin. The Hornets got six boards from Wells-Daniels and Erica Thompson, five from Samantha Schwab and Brooke Frazier, and four from Sloneker and Kylee Slone.
“Our defense was good tonight. I thought we kept them off balance,” Rossi said. “When we went zone, we wanted to force them to shoot the ball from the perimeter, but then we also wanted to mix it up with our halfcourt man-to-man.
“We’re just tickled to death we were able to get that win. The environment was outstanding. Lebanon does a great job hosting.”
Ferrell is playing with an injured shooting wrist and was only 8 of 14 from the charity stripe. She got bounced around quite a bit in the physical affair.
“I don’t really like getting thrown to the ground, but if that’s what it takes to win, I’ll do it,” Ferrell said.
Asked about taking over the top spot on the Wildcats’ scoring list, she replied, “I just wanted to win.”
Monroe is losing two senior starters, Thompson and Jahsalyn Robinson. The Hornets played without junior guard Katie Sloneker all season because of a knee injury.
“People forget we had kids playing out of position all year with Katie’s injury,” Allen said. “As a team, we really came a long way this year. It was impressive to see. I’m upset we lost, but I think we’re at the point where we’ll be competitive every year in the league and the district.”
Franklin’s last trip to district ended with a loss to St. Ursula 20 years ago. Tom Benjamin coached that Wildcat squad and provided that information Monday night.