For the second time this state tournament, Howards Grove found itself trailing with less than four minutes remaining, but just as they did in a semi-final win over Durand, the Tigers found a way to get the job done in a 44-43 win over Aquinas to claim the Division 3 Girls Basketball state title.
There was plenty of excitement at the end, as Aquinas had the ball down by three points with ten seconds remaining following a pair of free throws from Olivia Stauss. The Blugolds pushed the ball up the court, and the ball ended up in the hands of junior Kyah Steiner on the right wing as the seconds ticked down. She caught the ball inside the three-point line and attempted to step back to get off a possible game-tying three-pointer.
When Steiner's shot swished through at the buzzer, the Aquinas fans erupted, but the officials ruled her foot was on the line for a two. Video replay, available only at the state tournament, confirmed the call after a brief review, giving the win and trophy to Howards Grove.
Aquinas raced out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, but Howards Grove clawed back to tie things up at 12 when Kaitlyn Near made a jumper with 7:30 left in the first half. The Blugolds would stretch the lead back to eight a few minutes later and took a 22-17 advantage into the halftime break.
Howards Grove would fall behind by nine points three different times in the second half, but Aquinas could not deliver the knockout punch.
A 9-0 run by Howards Grove was capped by a three-point play from Olivia Stauss with 49 seconds left that put the Tigers in front by one, a lead they'd never relinquish.
Stauss had a team-high 16 points for the Tigers, while Samantha Yancy and Brittany Schaller added 8 points apiece. Yancy grabbed a team-best 11 rebounds.
Freshman sensation Lexi Donarski poured in a game-high 23 points for Aquinas, adding 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists, and 3 blocks.
It is the first state title for Howards Grove, who also advanced to the state tournament in 2012.