NORWALK — They were so close they could almost feel the hardwood floor of the Jerome Schottenstein Center beneath their feet.
When the final buzzer sounded, they felt the tears rolling down their cheeks instead.
The members of the Wadsworth girls basketball team lived in the moment Saturday, but Toledo Notre Dame broke their hearts by scoring five unanswered points over the final 37 seconds to win the Norwalk Division I Regional championship game 43-39.
The Eagles (25-3), who received 41 points from their front line of 6-0 Tierra Floyd, 5-10 Jayda Worthy and 6-0 Kaayla McIntyre, advance to face Kettering Fairmont (25-1) in next week’s state semifinals in Columbus.
The Grizzlies (25-3) end another highly successful season thinking of the what-ifs, with their losses coming to Final Four teams Notre Dame, Twinsburg and Fairmont.
“They’re hurting because this is not their goal,” coach Andrew Booth said. “The goal was not to get to the Elite Eight. The goal was to get to Columbus.”
Wadsworth led 39-38 with 2:27 left after Miami of Ohio recruit Rachel Goddard (9 points) drove left, split three defenders and completed a three-point play. The Grizzlies then appeared to be in good shape when Worthy (10 points, 6 rebounds) missed two point-blank shots in rapid succession and Sabrina Parsons grabbed the rebound.
It was the last play that went their way over the final 2 minutes.
“When we needed to make a play, we couldn’t come up with one and they did,” Booth said.
Using its stall offense, Wadsworth burned nearly a minute off the clock before Peyton Booth was called for a surpris-ingly quick 5-second violation.
Sophomore sensation Floyd (game-high 20 points) then drove to the middle of the paint and missed a contested off-balance drive, but Worthy grabbed the rebound and was fouled while attempting a put-back.
Worthy, who missed two free throws with the game tied in the third quarter, then gave the Eagles the lead by calmly swishing both free throws with 36.8 seconds left.
The Grizzlies quickly inbounded and got a great look when Goddard found a wide-open Haley Hassinger (9 points) in transition, but the 17-footer spun out. Worthy grabbed the rebound and passed to Kaayla McIntyre, who was fouled.
McIntyre split free throws to make it 41-39 at 26.4 seconds left. Goddard then drove down the right elbow into a double team before calmly kicking out to a wide-open Hannah Centea, who checked in after Hassinger fouled out. Heartbreak struck again when Centea’s 3-pointer missed right.
“You’ve got a kid who’s stepping in, in rhythm, I don’t know that I’m going to tell her not to shoot that shot,” Booth said.
Despite the failed shots, Wadsworth still had a glimmer of hope when Floyd stepped to the line with 16.8 seconds left and missed the front end of a one-and-one. Worthy didn’t even attempt to box out Booth or Centea, yet found the ball in her hands after the brick took an awkward bounce.
Worthy was fouled while trying to shoot, made two free throws and the Grizzlies’ last-ditch shots in the paint failed in the closing seconds.
It was a picture-perfect case of déjà vu, as Worthy made the clinching free throws in last year’s 55-51 win over Wadsworth.
“Being the same position as last year, it wasn’t as bad,” Worthy said. “But it is nervous because if you miss them, you could have lost the game. Making them feels awesome.”
In the eyes of Booth, the end-game scenario probably would have never happened if not for his team’s missed layups in the first half.
Riding the hot shooting of McKenzie O’Brien (game-high 14 points) and its pressure defense that forced nine-first half turnovers, Wadsworth eventually used an 8-0 personal run by O’Brien to take the lead. Jodi Johnson then added a free throw off a steal to make it 21-16.
The offense went stale after that, as it only could muster a Hassinger layup and two Johnson free thros over the final 5 minutes of the half.
At least six missed layups forced the Grizzlies to settle for 25-22 halftime lead that very well should have been double digits.
Coming out of the locker room, Notre Dame continued to cough up the rock by committing six third-quarter turnovers, yet Christina Jefferson played outstanding defense on O’Brien to keep Wadsworth in check as the game was tied at 32.
The Eagles took the lead on McIntyre paint score. Hassinger driving layups tied the game at 34 and 36, giving way for McIntyre to score inside again.
Goddard answered shortly thereafter before the Grizzlies’ fate was eventually sealed.
“I think we set a precedent this season,” O’Brien said. “All the seniors did well. We were all leaders, and I think all the younger players look up to us.
“They have some high expectations to meet next year, but I don’t have any doubt that they can achieve those.”