If the Bellevue girls wanted their first outright Northern Ohio League title in eight years, they would have to pry it away from last year's champions.
The Lady Red (17-1, 12-0 NOL) officially deposed the reigning champion Tornadoes Friday in Bellevue, 54-40. The win secured their first outright league title since the 2002-03 season under then-girls coach Mike Raifsnider.
"This is amazing," Bellevue senior Erika Jordan said. "We've won the NOL in softball two years in a row, but this is so much more ... I have no words to explain how I feel right now. It's senior night, my final year on this court and we win the NOL ... It's amazing."
But the coronation was touch-and-go until the end. The Lady Red were forced to battle back from a 36-27 deficit late in the third quarter. They were able to overcome that, and then some.
The Lady Red trailed 27-36 with 1:29 to play when junior Leslie Raifsnider rolled into the lane for a layup, kicking off an epic run for Bellevue. From 1:29 remaining in the third to just 6 seconds to play in the fourth, the Red outscored Columbian 27-2.
Starting with her layup late in the third, Raifsnider and Jordan combined to score 25 straight points for Bellevue. Raifsnider and Jordan combined for 14 of 14 at the free throw line in the fourth quarter alone, as the Lady Red were 16 of 17 (94 percent) in the game.
Jordan, one of Bellevue's three seniors playing her final home game for the Lady Red, scored 18 points, including hitting 6 of 6 free throws late in the fourth quarter to help keep the game out of reach.
"It was a lot of pressure," Jordan said. "I'd done it in practice, but now I could do it in a game. All that hard work in practice paid off in the game."
The Tornadoes and Red battled back and forth through the first half, finishing the quarter knotted at 23-23 thanks to a last-second 3-pointer by Bellevue's Corey Hartley. Tiffin burst out of the gates in the third quarter, however, taking a quick 30-23 lead, forcing Bellevue to call a time out. Two minutes later, Bellevue found itself on the wrong end of the 36-27 deficit.
"It was like swimming upstream today. It was rough going," Orshoski said. "We wanted to battle through that adversity and find a way to get it done even when we're missing shots and we're having some uncharacteristic turnovers, and Tiffin's playing well. But we got through it and found a way to get a 'W.'"
The Red, with just two regular-season games remaining against Galion and Willard remaining.
"The end in mind was an NOL championship," Orshoski said. "It was our first goal that we set this year, and we're thrilled to have achieved that, especially outright. We're undefeated [in the NOL] so far and we want to cap that off the second time through."
Raifsnider and Jordan led the Red with 20 and 18 points, respectively, followed by Corey Hartley with eight.
Hartley opened scoring for the Red in the first quarter, scoring five points in a five-second span to turn a 4-0 Bellevue deficit into a 5-4 lead.
Elizabeth Miller scored 15 points, 13 in the first half, to lead Columbian, followed by Williams with 10 points and Alicia Miller with eight points.
Bellevue hosts NOL opponent Galion on Tuesday.
TIFFIN COLUMBIAN (12-6, 9-3 NOL)
A. Miller 3-0--7; E. Miller 6-3--15; Brown 3-0--6; Goshe 1-0--2; Williams 5-0--10; TOTALS 18-3--40
BELLEVUE (17-1, 12-0 NOL)
Raifsnider 6-8--20; Hartley 3-0--8; Radloff 1-0--2; Jordan 4-8--18; Eskins 1-0--2; Sochko 1-0--2; TOTALS 16-16--54
Columbian 10 13 13 4 -- 40
Bellevue 11 12 13 18 -- 54
3-pt FG: Columbian 1 (A. Miller); Bellevue 4 (Hartley 2, Jordan 2)