COLUMBUS — Pierce put Ord in an unfamiliar position to earn itself a trip to a familiar place.
The Bluejays defeated the previously unbeaten Chanticleers 53-48 in the Class C2-3 district final at Central Community College here Friday to earn their fifth trip to state in six years.
"This was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We struggled at the beginning of the year, but once we one that conference tournament, we knew we could do it," said Pierce senior Sidney Zimmerer, who played on Pierce's last state-tournament team as a sophomore.
"As a younger player, I didn't play as much so I was excited to cheer on the team," she added. Now, going to state leading the team is nerve-racking, but I'm ready for it."
On Friday, Zimmerer was instrumental in turning the tide for the Bluejays in the opening moments of the second half.
After Ord closed out the first half on a 12-0 run to take a 29-27 halftime lead, Zimmerer buried three 3-pointers in a row as part of an 11-0 Pierce run that put the Bluejays ahead for good. Her final triple, with 4:06 left in the third quarter, gave the Bluejays a 48-39 lead.
"That felt amazing. When I was warming up, I wasn't hitting anything," Zimmerer said. "I was kind of scared, but I came out and just nailed them and it felt really good."
Pierce extended the lead even further in the fourth quarter, with Brenna Collison knocking down a pair of free throws for a 48-36 advantage with 3:22 left.
That's when Ord made its final push, trimming the lead to 52-48 when Delani Fahey's second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter splashed through the net with 8 seconds left. Zimmerer, though, hit 1 of 2 free throws before the Bluejays secured the win with a steal at midcourt.
"Zimmerer is a good shooter. One of our keys was to not leave her open, and we didn't really do that that well. She got open and made shots, and they just flat-out outplayed us," said Dexter Goodner, who previously coached at Stuart. "The fight in our girls was amazing. They gave me their hearts out there, and I feel like I let them down. I should've been able to deliver them a W."
Junior Kayla Simmons also hit on a pair of second-half 3s for the Bluejays (17-8) after they had built a 27-17 first-half lead in the paint. Six-foot junior Maggie Brahmer scored nine of her 11 points in the first half but was forced to the bench with two fouls late.
Also on the bench for Pierce during the closing minutes of the half with two fouls was senior Carly Sutherland, who scored a team-high 14 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. That's when Stuart made its push for the lead, going ahead 29-27 when Hailey Zulkoski knocked down a 3 with 38 seconds left.
But that's the last time Ord would lead.
"A lot of that momentum had to do with their bigs getting in foul trouble. We wanted to go after them, but we didn't really do that in the second half," Goodner said. "Basketball is a game of runs, and momentum is a cruel mistress. It turned on us, and we couldn't really battle back."
Fahey finished with a game-high 22 points for the Chanticleers (24-1), who found out moments after the game that Columbus Scotus' upset of Lincoln Christian likely would keep them from joining Pierce at state. Alexandra Smith also reached double figures, scoring all 10 of her points in the first half.
For Pierce, Zimmerer and Brahmer both joined Sutherland in double figures. Brahmer finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Zimmerer scored 13 points. Simmons added five assists to the nine points she scored on 3 of 5 3-point shooting.
As a team, the Bluejays - who opened the year 1-4 - knocked down 8 of 16 shots from deep and benefited from a 27-15 rebounding advantage.
"This has been kind of a different group. We started really slow and then kind of found our groove after Christmas," Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said. "These kids play hard, and they work hard. We made it here, and this is one of their goals. At state, anything can happen."
Ord (24-1)........15 14 7 12—48
Pierce (17-8)......19 8 14 12—53
O: Alexandra Smith 4-10 0-0 10, Delani Fahey 6-15 7-9 22, Lydia Hill 2-5 0-0 6, Madilyn Hagge 1-5 3-4 5, Danielle Wray 0-1 1-2 1, Hailey Zulkoski 2-5 0-0 5, Megan Benton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-42 11-15 48.
P: Kayla Simmons 3-6 0-0 9, Sidney Zimmerer 4-8 1-4 13, Brenna Collison 2-6 2-2 6, Carly Sutherland 2-6 9-11 14, Maggie Brahmer 5-8 1-2 11, Brianna Aguilera 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 16-37 13-19 53.
3-point field goals: ORD 8-24 (Fahey 3-8, Hill 2-5, Smith 2-6, Zulkoski 1-3); PIE 8-16 (Zimmerer 4-7, Simmons 3-5, Sutherland 1-2). Rebounds: ORD 15 (Hagge 6); PIE 27 (Brahmer 11, Sutherland 10). Assists: ORD 9 (Fahey 4, Smith 2, Zulkoski 2); PIE 13 (Simmons 5, Brahmer 3, Zimmerer 2, Sutherland 2). Steals: ORD 6 (Fahey 4, Smith 2); PIE 4. Blocked shots: ORD 0; PIE 4 (Collison 3).