RENO - With a state championship on the line, Galena High School guard Annie Baxter would have felt much more comfortable setting up for a penalty kick rather than a free throw.
But Baxter, admittedly better at soccer than basketball, was the player Reno chose to foul with 14 seconds left in the NIAA/U.S. Bank State 4A Girls Basketball Championship, with the Huskies trailing by three points.
Baxter nailed both of her free throws to give Galena a five-point lead and just enough points for the Grizzlies to hang on to beat Reno 48-46 for the school's first girls basketball title.
"She's a soccer player, no doubt," joked Galena coach Karen Friel. "But she plays so hard and has such a big heart. Sometimes she won't score a point or have anything on the scoresheet, but she makes a difference."
Baxter's perfect free throws were just one aspect of a game that went so well for the Grizzlies, Friel was wondering if she was dreaming.
"I honestly can't believe this actually happened," Friel said.
But it wasn't just Baxter who contributed to the biggest upset of the 4A tournament. Galena entered the game as the No. 4-seeded team from the North, while Reno started the tourney as the North's No. 1 team.
Grizzly senior forward Whitney Williams led all scorers with 14 points, and forward Janelle Mack scored nine points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.
Williams said the team was looking to rebound in the state tournament after its disappointing performance at zone.
"We came into this tournament as underdogs, and we came out No. 1," Williams said. "We knew we could do it, it's just that last week we didn't play very well. It's unbelievable."
Also unbelievable was the performance of freshman guard Joanna Hixon, who played with the composure of veteran senior. Although she scored just six points, Hixon maintained a calm presence for Galena while helping break Reno's press for much of the second half.
"I don't think Joanna understands that she's a freshman," Friel said. "She doesn't think about the (crucial) game situations, and that seems to help us more."
Except for an early 3-0 deficit, Galena never trailed. Once they got started, the Grizzlies went on an 11-0 run that gave them an eight-point lead, 11-3.
When Williams drained a jumper with just over two minutes remaining in the half, Galena had its biggest lead of the game, 24-9. Reno cut the lead to 11 by halftime and trailed 26-15.
The Grizzlies knew they would face an onslaught of pressure defense from Reno in the second half and that they couldn't afford to lose any momentum.
"Coach (Friel) told us to come out and pretend like we're down," said Baxter, who finished with five points. "We had to come out stronger in the second than in the first."
Even with that strategy, Reno began to cut into the Grizzly lead. When Melissa Padgett hit two free throws with 10 seconds left in the third, the Galena lead was down to five, 35-30.
But instead of folding, Galena remained poised and scored the first four points of the fourth on jumpers by Amanda Twitchell and Kirsten Drury. Hixon was subsequently fouled intentionally by Reno's Brita Class. She made her free throws and the Galena lead was back to a seemingly comfortable 11-point lead, 41-30.
But Reno rallied once again and cut the lead to 45-40 when Meghann Hackstaff put in an offensive rebound with 1:32 left in the game.
Reno got the ball back after Baxter missed two free throws with 1:19 left, and Jennifer Koch was fouled. But Koch missed her free throws and Reno still trailed by five.
Baxter was fouled again and she made 1-of-2 to put Galena up 46-40, but Reno responded with a 3-pointer by Koch which pulled the Huskies to within three points.
But that's when Baxter stepped up to make her final two free throws. In the end, she was 3-for-6 in the quarter.
The Grizzlies would need every one of her free throws, too, as Megan Nunn hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final 48-46.
"Hey, what can I say, I'm a better soccer player," said Baxter, who along with Jayleen Chen and Karla Orellana helped Galena to the Northern 4A girls soccer title last fall.