Josie McGue of Jefferson moves past a Paulding defender in Saturday's sectional final. (DHI Media/Joe Dray)
Josie McGue of Jefferson moves past a Paulding defender in Saturday's sectional final. (DHI Media/Joe Dray)

DELPHOS — The Lady Cats have punched their ticket to the district tournament with a 48-47 win over Paulding. Saturday’s victory marks the 20th of the year for Jefferson and the first time they have reached that milestone since the 2010-11 season, when they made a trip to the state semifinal.

The Wildcats and Panthers met back on Jan. 21 with Jefferson coming out ahead by two points. A last-second shot by Paulding fell out of the rim and left them hungry for a rematch. Saturday’s game was no different as the Cats edged out the one-point win to earn a sectional crown.

“They are a perfect matchup for us because they have great players at the guard and post positions,” said Jefferson head coach Denise Lindeman. “We struggled on both sides of the ball and they stuck together to find a way to win as a team. Paulding is a great team and they battled us well tonight. I’m happy we came away with the win an I’m very proud of our girls.”

Freshman Lauren French had another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, her eighth of the season. Classmate Lyv Lindeman nailed a pair from behind the arc and led Jefferson with 17 points. Junior Aly Lindeman added 13 points.

Free-throw shooting was crucial in the game with the Lady Cats shooting 15-of-18 in the game for 78 percent. Paulding made just two trips to the line, going 4-for-4.

Aly Lindeman had the hot hand to open the game, scoring seven-unanswered points as Jefferson put the Panthers on their heels. Janae Pease connected on a jumper for Paulding’s first points of the night at the 3:54 mark of the first quarter. Lyv Lindeman responded with a 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 10-4.

Sadie Estle knocked down a pair from the charity stripe but a basket by Josie McGue with 1:00 remaining cut the lead to eight points. Estle rushed a layup with time running out and connected but Jefferson still held a 12-6 advantage after one.

McGue hit the first basket of the second quarter less than :30 in to make it 14-6, Cats. Pease swiped the ball and went coast-to-coast, getting fouled in the process and cut the Jefferson lead to five points. Aly Lindeman was a perfect 2-for-2 from the line and French went to work in the paint as the Wildcats looked to put some distance between them and their NWC opponent.

Paulding exited a timeout and went on a rampage to close out the first half. Parrett hit a 3-pointer and a layup by Leigha Egnor brought the score to 18-14, Delphos with 2:25 on the clock. Lyv Lindeman nailed a jumper but five-unanswered points by Parrett left the Panthers trailing by one point with under a minute to play.

Paulding took their first lead of the game as time ticked away in the opening half on a shot from Egnor. French hit a basket in the paint with :30 to go but Estle came through with hoop and the harm to give the Lady Panthers a 24-22 lead at the break.

There were seven ties and six lead changes in the third quarter as both teams fought for every inch of the court. The real story played out at the free-throw line, where the Lady Cats went 8-for-8 in the period. Egnor found three open shots for Paulding and Estle worked the ball inside for four points.

The Panthers held a vulnerable two-point lead with 1:22 remaining in the third but a pair of free-throws by McGue tied the game at 36. Kaylee Buzard nailed a jumper with :25 remaining to give Jefferson a 38-36 advantage heading into the final 8:00 of action.

A 2-point basket from Pease tied things up again early in the fourth quarter but Lyv Lindeman drained a triple to put the Cats out in front. Egnor hit one in the paint to cut the lead down to one with 2:33 left in the game and a turnover by Jefferson put the Panthers in a good position to walk away with the victory.

Lyv Lindeman forced a big turnover with 1:42 left in the game and sprinted toward the basket. She hit the layup and drew a foul in the process to put the Cats up by two. Aly Lindeman hit the front end of two shots and made it 45-42, Jefferson and a missed shot by the Pantehrs forced them into a foul situation.

Pease landed a 2-point shot but Delphos held a 48-44 lead with :19 remaining. Claire Schweller hit nothing but net on a NBA-range triple at the buzzer but the damage was already done as Jefferson comes away with a 48-47 victory over the Panthers and claim the sectional title.

“Our seniors are amazing and I love them,” said Paulding head coach Matt Arellano. “The four of them have laid a foundation that we hope can last. I’m really proud of our seniors. I can’t speak highly enough about them both on and off the court.”

The Lady Cats will face Sherwood Fairview at Elida on Thursday with a 7:30 tipoff scheduled. Fairview defeated Van Buren 54-33 to advance to districts. The Apaches hold a record of 20-3 (7-0 GMC).

The Panthers end their 2020-21 campaign with a record of 16-7 (5-3 NWC).

Paulding 6 18 12 11 - 47

Jefferson 12 10 16 10 - 48

Paulding (47)

Janae Pease 14, Sadie Estle 13, Leigha Egnor 12, Jalynn Parrett 8

Jefferson (48)

Lyv Lindeman 17, Aly Lindeman 13, Lauren French 10, Josie McGue 6, Kaylee Buzard 2