DES MOINES — With just a pair of free throws, Sioux City Bishop Heelan sophomore Millie Niggeling helped cement the Crusaders’ place in school history.
Niggeling, the Class 3A All-Tournament team captain, sank two free throws with 12.1 seconds left and Sioux City Bishop Heelan snuck past top-ranked Pella 54-51 on Saturday night to win its first state crown.
Carli Tritz scored 19 points, Niggeling added 17 points and nine rebounds and Michelle Lund chipped in 16 for Heelan (25-2), which survived a game that featured nine lead changes and five ties.
Pella (25-2), which held a small lead for much of the game, pulled back within two, 51-49, on a layup by Brooke Gritters. Then Lund, an 86 percent free throw shooter, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:02 left, giving Pella the ball down 52-49.
Heelan put Jenny Dorman on the line rather than risk a game-tying 3, and she hit a pair to make it 52-51 with 40.9 seconds left. Tritz was called for a charge on the other end, and Gritters went to the line with 14.9 seconds left.
She missed her first free throw, and Heelan grabbed the rebound. Pella quickly fouled Niggeling and she calmly hit both, forcing Pella to go for a 3 to force overtime.
But the Dutch couldn’t get a clean look at the basket. Gritters threw up a 3 at the buzzer that hit the back rim and bounced out, sending Heelan’s bench into a frenzy.
Gritters led all scorers with 21 points and added 10 rebounds. Dorman had 13 points for Pella, which has now gone to six tournaments in seven years without winning it all.
Lund gave Heelan a 45-39 lead with 3s on back-to-back possessions. The first came from 23 feet out, and she pulled up and drilled the second one after a defender fell down. Lund pushed the Crusaders ahead 49-43 on a short jumper with 4:48 left.
Things were neck-and-neck through the third quarter. Dorman nailed a 3 to give Pella a 38-34 lead, but Lund matched her on the other end to bring the Crusaders back within one. Tritz tied it at 39-all with a layup late in the third.