WARTBURG — When Oneida's Kelsie Caldwell scored on a layup with 5:07 remaining in the third quarter of Tuesday's District 4-A championship game here, Wartburg coach Jason Davis had seen enough.
Davis used a timeout in an effort to halt Oneida's momentum. But in a game that had been controlled by the Lady Indians — who led by as much as 10 late in the second quarter before the Bulldogs were able to cut the lead to five — it seemed to be just a matter of time.
And then the wheels fell off.
A half-hour later, Wartburg was hoisting the District 4-A championship trophy after a 44-38 win over the Lady Indians, and Oneida was preparing to limp into the Region 2-A tournament short-handed.
Wartburg used a 14-1 run the rest of the way in the third quarter to take control of the game, and managed to hold a frustrated Oneida team in check in the fourth quarter as tempers flared between both teams.
Oneida junior center Micah Stephens and Wartburg's Nannah Barnette were both ejected from the game early in the fourth quarter, and the Lady Indians were called for another technical foul late in the third quarter. Both players will have to sit out Friday's region quarterfinal due to TSSAA regulations.
On a night when both teams struggled from the field — Wartburg finished with 32 percent shooting, Oneida with 31 percent — Oneida managed to grab a comfortable lead in the second quarter behind the rebounding of sophomore Victoria Williams, who had nine boards, all but one in the first half, and the play of freshman point guard Baylee Newport, who had 10 first half points en route to a team-high 14 for the game.
After Jessica Morgan hit a jumper late in the second quarter to give Oneida a 6-point lead, Newport scored half her first half points to help the Lady Indians push the lead to 10, 25-15. Wartburg was able to score on a 3-point shot by Barnette to close out the period on a positive note.
But things appeared to pick right back up where they left off when the teams re-entered the court for the third quarter. After a layup by Madison Laughter cut the lead to five, Oneida scored on back-to-back possessions, first Stephens and then Caldwell, to push the lead to 29-20.
After a timeout, however, the Bulldogs began to find ways to penetrate Oneida's defense. Kristie Phillips, who finished with 19 points, did most of the damage, drawing multiple fouls beneath the basket.
A technical foul against the Lady Indians helped flip the lead in the final minute of the third quarter, as Wartburg scored, then made three free throws to turn a 30-28 deficit into a 33-30 lead.
Oneida cut the lead to 38-36 on a bucket by Newport a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, but Wartburg answered on a shot by Victoria Hamby, who finished with 11, and a frustrated Lady Indians team was never able to recover.
Despite leaving the game early, Stephens finished with 12 rebounds to accompany seven points.
The teams shot almost identical numbers — the Lady Indians were 15 of 48 from the field, Wartburg was 15 of 47 and each made three 3-point shots — but Wartburg capitalized at the free throw line. Despite hitting just 52 percent — under Oneida's 56 percent from the line — Wartburg made the post of its 21-9 free throw advantage, earning six free points that proved to be the difference.
"You've got to keep your cool, especially in a game like this," Oneida coach Marv West said afterwards. "If you do the things you're taught, you're not in this situation. It's disappointing.
"They've been playing really well but we just weren't ready for that situation," West added. "You couldn't have told me that something like this would happen tonight. We let our nerves get us. We got some fouls called on us and things spiraled."
Oneida's next game will be Friday, when either Tellico Plains or Harriman will visit OHS Gymnasium for a 7 p.m. tip. Those two teams are scheduled to play in the District 3-A consolation game Tuesday in Harriman.