By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
BUTLER — Shakespeare warned us to “beware the Ides of March” — March 15, the assassination of Julius Caesar.
In the year 2014, on the Ides of March, it was more a case of beware Blackhawk and the eyes of Chassidy Omogrosso.
Omogrosso owned the free-throw line Saturday afternoon, converting all 13 of her attempts in leading the Lady Cougars 48-45 PIAA Elite Eight round win over Hickory.
At Butler High, Omogrosso’s offensive output included a 4-for-15 shooting performance. However she sank both ends of 1-and-1 bonus situations with 23.6 and 15.5 seconds remaining.
“People stepped up, and we knew we had to get the ball to Chassidy — ‘’cause she’s great from the foul line,” related Blackhawk Head Coach Steve Lodovico. “She’s close to meeting the high eighties in free-throw percentage, and I know she was eight-for-eight last week when it counted.
“If she gets to the line, she’s gonna make ’em. ... She’s a great player, and I’m glad she plays for us,” Lodovico added.
“Coach always tells me to make sure the ball’s in my hands for free throws, or just to be able to handle the ball ’cause (opponents) are gonna come trap or foul you,” Omogrosso related.
Following Omogrosso’s final freebies — on which Lady Hornet senior standout Nikki Arbanas drew her 5th personal foul — Hickory Head Coach Jeanette Whitehead hailed a timeout with 7.6 ticks to play. But unlike Arbanas’ buzzer-beating bucket in overtime against South Park approximately 48 hours earlier, there were no last-second heroics.
But Brandi Beader made it a breathless for Blackhawk for a heartbeat.
After taking the inbounds pass, Beader banged a potential game-tying 3-point attempt off the rim, and the long rebound kicked out to Omogrosso, who dribbled the length of the floor as time expired.
“She had the ‘look’ that we were looking for. It was by design,” replied Whitehead, without hesitation. “Unfortunately (Saturday), the ball didn’t fall.”
In spite of Omogrosso’s 3 freebies with a half-second remaining in the 1st frame, Hickory held a 13-9 edge. But Omogrosso and Halie Denman (4 points apiece), coupled with Bridgette Shaffer’s triple offset Arbanas’ 7 points, and Blackhawk boasted a 2422 bulge by the break.
A pivotal point occurred when Hickory senior standout Holly Grober incurred her 3rd personal with 2:07 remaining to intermission.
Beader bombed a trey, followed by teammate Megan Chess’ triple, and the Lady Hornets held a 28-24 advantage just 47 seconds into the 2nd half.
The edge was exchanged a half-dozen times during the 3rd period, but the Lady Cougars closed with a 37-34 lead as Omogrosso collaborated with Danielle Levato for a score, then Denman dished to Omogrosso for another.
During the 4th frame the Lady Cougars claimed a pair of 6-point leads — the latter at 44-38 with 2:01 remaining on Denman’s drive — but the Lady Hornets had one, final surge.
Arbanas recovered a loose ball, and from the floor fed Beader for a breakout. She was fouled and sank the subsequent freebie, drawing Hickory within 44-41 with 1:24 left. Then Beader’s put-back with 40.6 ticks to play had Hickory within 44-43.
Omogrosso and Chess traded 2 free throws apiece at the 29.6- and 20.2-second segments. Following the latter, however, Blackhawk inbounded to Omogrosso.
“I just think it’s all mental,” related Omogrosso regarding free-throw marksmanship. “I practice, I don’t know how many, with my dad every night. I know free throws win games, so I know I have to make them,” added the 5-foot-5 junior point guard.
Led by Omogrosso, the Lady Cougars (26-2) connected on 17 of 20 freebies (85 percent), compared with the Lady Hornets’ 12-for-16 marksmanship.
” ... That’s where they gained the momentum, was on the line,” Whitehead asserted.
The loss was heartbreaking for Hickory (27-1).
“(Omogrosso) did hurt us from the free-throw line, but we played very, very well. Our girls played hard, we didn’t give up, and there were a lot of adversities out there,” Whitehead reflected. “I told the girls, ‘Just work on the things within your control,’ and the things within our control, I thought that we did them very well.”
Hickory hit on 15 of 36 floor shots (41.7), commited a dozen miscues — only 5 during the 2nd half and 1 during the 4th frame — and battled bigger Blackhawk on the boards. Tthe Lady Cougars claimed a 33-22 edge.
“It’s a game of runs; unfortunately, (Saturday) their runs outlasted our’s,’ Whitehead lamented. “It’s certainly a game of runs. When we hit those two threes, it was indicative that we weren’t gonna die, not just roll over. The girls fought to the very end.”
Arbanas, Grober, Jasmine Shephard and Shawna Moore played their final game for the Lady Hornets. Arbanas annexed a 17-point, 2-assist, 3-rebound line, Nicole LaCava lent 8 points, as did Beader, and Grober garnered a 7-point, 4-rebound, 3-assist afternoon in spite of missing multiple minutes due to fouls.
“My seniors are awesome, and we’re gonna miss them,” Whitehead began. “They led on the floor, off the floor. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls, and they established, clearly, family unity. They work well together.
“My hearts aches for them,” Whitehead related. “We had a victorious season, and they led us to places that I don’t think any team in Hickory girls’ basketball program history has gone, with an undefeated season, winning the first District 10 championship (since1983), and we got a step further, to the ‘Elite Eight.’ And it was all under their leadership.
‘My hat goes off to them, I wish them well, and I’m sure they’re gonna have great success in their careers,” Whitehead concluded.
PIAA CLASS AAA
HICKORY 13 9 12 11 45
BLACKHAWK 9 15 13 11 48
HICKORY — Arbanas 4-8-8-17, Chess 1-2-2-5, Grober 3-1-5-7, LaCava 4-0-0-8, Beader 3-1-1-8, Shephard 0-0-0-0, Moore 0-0-0-0, O’Brien 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Arbanas 1, Beader 1, Chess 1. Totals: 15-12-16-45.
BLACKHAWK — Shaffer 1-1-1-4, Omogrosso 4-13-13-22, Levato 2-0-0-4, Vannoy 3-1-3-7, Evans 0-0-0-0, Hoover 0-0-1-0. 3-pt. goals: Shaffer 1, Omogrosso 1. Totals: 13-17-20-48.