HARRIMAN — Two years ago in the Region 2-A semifinals, Oneida led Meigs County by 19 points at halftime, only to see the Tigers roar back in the second half to end the Lady Indians' season with an overtime win.
In Wednesday's rematch in the Region 2-A championship game, Oneida refused to let history repeat itself. After leading most of the night before seeing Meigs County surge back to take a lead in the fourth quarter, the Lady Indians forced overtime, where they prevailed with a 61-56 win over the state's sixth-ranked Class A team.
"Two years ago we should've been in this game, but we lost to this same team in overtime and just couldn't find a way," Oneida coach Marv West said. "Tonight, I'm going to tell you, these girls refused to quit."
Oneida won the Region 2-A championship in much the same way that it had won 22 games before Wednesday night's showdown with Meigs County: tenacious defense. The Lady Indians forced the Tigers into 27 turnovers and limited them to 38 percent shooting.
"We aren't going to make every shot. That's not who we are," West said. "We aren't going to shoot 60 or 70 percent. But, by golly, we're going to play defense. And in that overtime, we beat them up."
Sidney Dishman scored 24 points and was named the Region 2-A tournament MVP, the first region MVP from Oneida since Amanda Jackson won the award in 2002.
It was not coincidence that Wednesday's game marked the Lady Indians first region championship since that 2002 season. As a result, Oneida earned a home substate game for the first time in 15 years. The Lady Indians will face either Hampton or South Greene at 7 p.m. Saturday at OHS Gymnasium.
Following Wednesday's win, West — who also coached the 2002 region championship team — took time to let the victory sink in.
"As a coach, I've always coached as hard but I didn't appreciate where we were. I do now," he said.
A big story of Wednesday's game was the free throw line. Oneida had struggled from the line in the postseason, but started the championship game by hitting nine of its first 10 free throws. The Lady Indians finished 28 of 40 from the line, hitting 70 percent of their attempts. They got their twice as often as Meigs County, which shot just 20 free throws, and had a 12-point advantage at the line.
Oneida was able to get to the line often by relentlessly attacking the interior of Meigs County's defense. Dishman, Baylee Thomas and Emily brooks each shot at least 10 free throws, combining to shoot 24 of 31 from the line.
When Meigs County was able to get to the line, it was usually its point guard. Kassidy Kenny shot a perfect 10 of 10 from the line en route to a team-high 18 points.
Oneida led most of the way in the first half, building an eight-point lead at the intermission, 29-21. But Macie Boggess came alive for Meigs County in the third quarter, hitting a pair of 3-point shots and scoring 10 points to power her team to a narrow lead. Boggess finished with 17 points but fouled out in the fourth quarter. Meigs County's Alyson Crowder also fouled out of the game.
After falling behind briefly, Oneida went back up by five points at the end of the third quarter. But Meigs County again rallied in the fourth, taking a 52-50 lead on a Boggess 3-point shot with 2:22 remaining.
Oneida tied the game on a pair of free throws by Thomas, before Jade Meadows scored with 1:57 left to again put her team up two. Oneida's answer came on a tough shot by Dishman, forcing a 54-54 game with 1:41 remaining.
Neither team scored a field goal in overtime, but Oneida out-scored Meigs County at the free throw line in the extra period, 7-2.
A key sequence came with 35 seconds remaining in overtime. With Oneida leading 58-56, after a pair of Dishman free throws, Harley Boyatt missed the first of two free throws. West used a time out to calm his team down.
"I was worried because there was some looks on some faces like, 'Here we go again,'" West said, referring to Oneida's overtime loss to Meigs County two years ago. "That's why I got that time out before Harley's free throw. She's thinking she's letting people down, but she played so good. I wanted to get everybody's mind right. You've gotta let this stuff go."
Out of the time out, Boyatt hit the second free throw to give her team a 3-point lead. Then the freshman blocked a Meigs County shot on the opposite end of the court, leading to a turnover and allowing the Lady Indians to salt the game away at the free throw line.
Joining Dishman on the all-tournament team from Oneida were Thomas, Brooks and Emily Bertram, who finished with 13, 10 and nine points in Wednesday's game, respectively.
The Lady Indians are expected to face Hampton on Saturday. The Bulldogs face South Greene, the state's top-ranked Class A team, in the Region 1-A championship game on Thursday. Tipoff of Saturday's substate game is 7 p.m.
ONEIDA (61): Dishman 24, B. Thomas 13, Brooks 10, Bertram 9, Boyatt 3, Hutson 2.
MEIGS COUNTY (56): Kenny 18, Boggess 17, Meadows 9, Crager 5, Crowder 4, More 3.