By KEVIN THOMPSON
HAYS — They did it.
Third time was definitely the charm for the Ingalls Lady Bulldogs.
At 26-0, they now lay claim as the top team in Class 1A-Division II, putting away Norwich 37-22 in the state title game at Gross Memorial Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
This was Ingalls' third straight trip to state, its first time in the finals since 1984, and the first girls title in school history.
And by the screams of joy and smiles afterwards, every girl knew just how important this win was.
"This is awesome. It's a great feeling," coach Roger Thurlow said.
And they did it the way Ingalls always seems to — good defense.
"Our defense was everything to us," senior point guard and four-year starter Tara Whipple said. "Holding a team to 22 points in a state championship — that's a statement in itself right there."
It's the 13th time this season the Bulldogs have held a team under 30 points.
Ingalls opened the game with a 10-1 run that saw Norwich turn the ball over nine times and only put up four shots in the first period.
Whipple scored the first six points for the Bulldogs, while freshmen Kaisha Batman and Hope Beach scored the next two field goals, the last coming at the 3:00 mark.
Ingalls went up 14-1 as Rebecca Wyatt hit the first two field goals of the second quarter to end the scoring drought, but then the Lady Eagles mounted a comeback.
Haley Rust shook off her last name, hitting the Eagles' first three field goals.
Norwich inched back within three at the 2:17 mark (16-13) before Whipple rattled in a jump shot and Batman sank a free throw in the waning seconds to put the Bulldogs back up 19-13 at the break.
Freshman Bulma Galaviz hit the first field goal of the second half for either team at 4:01 and Beach canned another on the next possession and Ingalls was back on top by 10.
The lead was 26-19 at the quarter break, after which the Bulldogs put a lid on Norwich's basket and ran a newly learned stall game to win the fourth quarter 11-3.
Thurlow finally relaxed and applauded his team with 50 seconds remaining, knowing the girls were about to accomplish the last of all their season goals.
"This doesn't even feel real right now," he said shortly after speaking with his team. "It's mind-boggling."
Ingalls finished fourth and third the last two years, but first was the goal this time.
The team's focus all year has been to stay with the plan and play hard, Thurlow said, and it worked.
"Those girls are so tough. They run and they run and they run," Thurlow said. "They may not always look pretty on offense, but on defense — they just allowed 22 points in a championship game."
Norwich scored its lone points of the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer at 5:28. From then on, it was a game of running out the clock.
The final-quarter stall, which they just implemented in the morning, proved more effective than Thurlow had anticipated.
"When we started to stall in the fourth quarter, we thought we could buy 30 seconds, and then we bought the whole game," he explained. "It wasn't until that last time when Tara held the ball that it dawned on me we just won the state."
Ingalls relied on its defense, Thurlow said, no different from any other game all season. The first- and final-quarter stinginess on points was just a result of what has worked all year.
"Their burst of energy in the second quarter came because we were running out of gas. Then we got to halftime. These girls know that if they stick with the program, we won't be the first team to run out of gas," Thurlow said.
Whipple led the Bulldogs with 12 points and four steals. Batman and Wyatt had eight points each, Beach five and Galaviz three to round out balanced scoring.
"It's amazing," Whipple said. "Reality hasn't set in yet."
It's been a team that doesn't rely on any one superstar player, Thurlow said.
"Only if you measure superstars by scoring. But if you measure by defense, passing and rebounding, we've got a lot of superstars," he said.
His younger players have stepped up all season, Thurlow said, adding the balance to the three veterans.
"Kaisha has been so steady all year. Hope and Bulma just step up and are so tough," he said. "There's no doubt we're not state champs without those freshmen. It was a team effort."
Batman, who had 22 points in the semifinal game on Friday, said she was in tears from the overwhelming emotions following the game.
"Who would have ever thought after losing three starters and a top sub from last year that we'd be in this position," she said. "It's so amazing."
Upperclass leadership has helped the younger players, she said, and everybody bought into the system. It was a perfect example of teamwork.
"It's awesome. We've been up here three years and always wanted it, but this year it came to us. We came together as a team," senior Deisy Estrada said. "Our freshmen helped us a whole bunch. Since the first day of practice, they've come out with the attitude that we're taking this."
Wyatt said they should have put away Norwich early, but giving in to nerves when the Eagles made their second-quarter run prevented that.
But the three veterans had talked to the team about the nerves issue, and it worked out in the second half.
Macy Stephens led Norwich (24-2) with eight points, and Mackenzie Klaver had 16 rebounds. But the Eagles' 22 turnovers to Ingalls' 10, and 9-for-28 shooting was too much to overcome.
The title was a great way to send off the two seniors, Wyatt said. She said the team accomplished all its goals, but going 26-0 was a bonus.
"If you had told me we would go undefeated, I would have laughed in your face," she said. "This is the cherry on top. It's crazy. I won't be able to stop smiling for at least a week."
Beach said the coach's speech before the game was inspiring.
"He told us that, no matter what happened, he would be proud of us, no matter how we played," she said. "We went out and defended it. We wanted it really bad."
Savoring the win and the title, Thurlow said losing the seniors will be hard, but they were great mentors to the younger players.
"I don't know what happens after this," he said. "But this will be the most fun I've ever had coaching basketball."
Norwich 1 12 6 3 -- 22
Ingalls 10 9 7 11 -- 37
Norwich (24-1) — Rust 3 0-0 6, M. Stephens 3 0-0 6, J. Stephens 0 0-2 0, Poe 0 1-2 1, Klaver 3 2-2 9. Totals 9-32 3-6 22.
Ingalls (25-0) — Beach 2 1-3 5, Batman 2 5-8 9, Whipple 4 4-5 12, Wyatt 4 0-0 8, Galaviz 1 1-2 3. Totals 13-41 11-19 37.
3-pt. goals--Norwich 1-5 (Klaver), Ingalls 0-3. Rebounds--Norwich 27 (Klaver 16), Ingalls 25 (Batman 9, Wyatt 6). Turnovers--Norwich 22, Ingalls 10. Fouls--Norwich 17, Ingalls 13. Fouled out--none.