WARSAW — After being announced as semistate champions by Warsaw’s public address announcer, the South Side crowd stormed the floor to celebrate with the Archers’ players like they owned the place.
That’s because for one game, they did.
After their 47-44 win over the host Tigers in the Class 4A semistate, the Archers will make their first appearance in the state finals.
“This just solidifies everything we have done the last four years and how hard these girls have worked,” South Side coach Juanita Goodwell said. “The blood, sweat and tears of four seasons, and to be able to accomplish it their senior year, I can’t be more proud and happier for them.”
The No. 11 Archers (24-3) will play No. 2 Bedford North Lawrence (27-0) in the 4A state championship game Saturday in Terre Haute. Bedford won 66-52 in overtime over Indianapolis Roncalli in the southern semistate.
South Side and Bedford played in the regular season with Bedford winning 63-39 at home Jan. 26.
Before Saturday, the Archers only other semistate appearance came in 2008.
“This feels awesome because we had never been there before,” South Side’s Lynnia Noel said. “It was a goal at the beginning of the year that we wanted to get to state and do something South Side has never done before.”
Warsaw (24-2) fell to 11-1 at home this season, getting 20 points from Nicki Grose and 18 from Jennifer Walker-Crawford.
“Any loss is tough, but when you are on your home court and losing the game; … it does hurt just a little bit more being here in the Tiger Den because I wanted this senior group to walk off with a win and a chance to go down to state,” Warsaw coach Michelle Harter said.
South Side had experience in hostile environments, playing five home games all season.
On Saturday, the Archers’ faithful were even chanting “this is our house.”
“We are used to that environment, and we just had to come out and make sure we won (Saturday),” South Side’s Ariana Simmons said.
“It helps a lot because it helps with a buildup to Terre Haute (for the state finals).”
The Archers were led by DeJoyah Johnson’s 11 points and Ariana Simmons’ 10.
“It means a lot to us,” Simmons said of advancing to the state finals. “We made history tonight.”
Just like in the sectional finals over Homestead, Lakyn Gulley was clutch from the free-throw line, making four free throws in the final 15 seconds to secure the win.
“We know we want the ball in her hands,” Goodwell said. “We put her back in the game for that scenario, and she was able to seal the deal for us. Lakyn is just cool under pressure in that situation.”
The Archers proved to be big in the second half, outscoring the Tigers 25-15 in the final two quarters.
“What we had to do was turn up the defensive pressure, and that’s what we did in the third quarter,” Goodwell said. “We just made adjustments, and more importantly we just stayed in the game.”