SAVING GRACE: Fishers guard Toni Grace drives to the basket during the third quarter of the Tigers 41-36 win over the Westfield Shamrocks. Grace finished with a game-high 14. Fishers plays Hamilton Southeastern in the semis Friday.
SAVING GRACE: Fishers guard Toni Grace drives to the basket during the third quarter of the Tigers 41-36 win over the Westfield Shamrocks. Grace finished with a game-high 14. Fishers plays Hamilton Southeastern in the semis Friday.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Lady Tigers advanced.

In a back-and-forth first-round matchup in Class 4A Sectional 8, Fishers generated just enough offense for a 41-36 win over the Westfield Lady Shamrocks Tuesday night.

“Early in the year, I think we would have folded,” said Fishers head coach Lauren Vail. “We play a tough schedule, and I think that pays off in situations like (Tuesday), where you’ve been in that grind.”

Fishers saw Westfield cut what had been a six-point lead to start the fourth down to three midway through the quarter on a basket from Ryann Bunting and a pair of Sophia Kreag free throws.

But then Toni Grace took matters into her own hands. Grace, who led the Tigers in scoring during the regular season with 15.7 points per game, scored 10 of her game-high 14 points in the second half. Westfield struggled at keeping the 5-foot-6 senior guard out of the lane, and Grace made the Shamrocks pay with several drives that ended in trips to the charity stripe.

“She’s so quick and athletic,” said Westfield head coach Ginny Smith. “She just kind of willed herself to the free throw line. I think we closed out driving lanes pretty good. She got a couple calls I felt like could have gone the other way, but … I thought defensively it was still a good game plan.”

Grace scored six of the Tigers final seven points, shooting 6-of-6 from the foul line during that stretch. While she only made 1-of-11 from the floor, Grace connected on 12-of-13 at the line on the night.

“That’s Toni — she’s shown a lot of growth,” Vail said. “She had a couple really big plays tonight at crucial times. That’s the kind of kid she can be.”

Westfield held the lead early at 10-7 in the first, but by quarter’s end the score was deadlocked at 12. The Shamrocks scored the first bucket of the second on the only basket of the game for Kreag to reclaim the lead at 14-12, but the Tigers answered with an 8-0 run to put some separation on the scoreboard for the first time. Skyler Fulton spearheaded the run, hitting back-to-back 3’s.

“This team has been a team of runs — basketball is a game of runs — but I think that this team especially … it’s been the second and third quarter typically where we’ve been able to do that,” Vail said. “It’s different kids every night, and that’s what I love about it.”

Westfield closed the second on a 6-2 run of its own, with the first half ending on a half court shot from Annabelle O’Hair that cut Fishers lead to 24-22.

Both teams struggled offensively in the third, with Westfield only managing four points and Fishers mustering eight in the quarter.

“It’s been the same problem we’ve had all year long — just being able to score — and we hit those long spells where we can’t put it in the hole,” Smith said. “In big games, against good teams, you’ve got to find a way to consistently score. We didn’t do that.”

As a team, Westfield shot 10-of-39 (26 percent) from the floor, including 4-of-15 from behind the arc. Fishers didn't fare much better at 10-of-36 (28 percent) and 3-of-11 from deep.

Like the determining factor is in many close games— free throws proved to be a major factor in the outcome. Fishers made 18 free throws to Westfield’s 12 — all nine of the Tigers’ fourth-quarter points came at the foul line. “That’s going to win you some ball games,” Vail said.

Fishers also held a 34-27 advantage on the glass, with Kenedi London leading the Tigers in rebounding with a game-high nine. Kraig and O’Hair led Westfield with seven boards each.

Ashtin DeCraene led the Shamrocks in scoring with nine. Kreag finished with eight, and Bunting had six. Fulton finished second on the Tigers in points with seven. London had six, and Ali Gerka chipped in with five.

Fishers (13-11) advances to the semifinals of its sectional bracket with the win and will play Hamilton Southeastern (15-7) Friday. The Royals defeated the Tigers 54-49 Dec. 16 when the two schools faced off at Fishers.

“It’s a big game, so it’s just about getting your kids to relax and play,” Vail said. “We need to be great defensively and limit (Southeastern) to one shot. They are obviously so good offensively — we’re going to have to really take care of business on the defensive end of the floor.”

Westfield finishes its season at 14-9, and, despite Tuesday’s loss, Smith is proud of her team’s effort.

“I felt like defensively we did everything that we had prepared and prepped for. We actually did an amazing job defensively. We held a really good basketball team to 41 points,” she said. “I thought our fight was good — those kids played with heart. I’m proud of them for that.”