“We’re not going out like this again,” Calesse Bair shouted at her teammates on the bench. “We’re not going to lose on a three-pointer right here.”
New Haven had just called a timeout with 12.4 seconds left to play in the Class 2 Sectional at Hannibal High School, with Scotland County clinging to a 37-35 lead.
Scotland County fans had to experience flashbacks to last year’s regional game against New Franklin, when in a similar defensive slugfest, SCR-I saw its Final Four dreams dashed by a last second three-pointer.
“It was eerily similar,” said Coach Cory Shultz following the game. “The thought obviously popped into a few people’s head, but Easy [Bair] told her teammates it wasn’t happening again.”
Bair proved prophetic, as SCR-I’s defense, which has been a bit unheralded due to the Lady Tigers firepower, made one final stand on a night on which the D carried Scotland County to its second straight Elite Eight.
Scotland county had a pair of deflections on the inbounds pass as both Bair and Feeney got their hands on the ball before it caromed to Creek who smothered the steal on what proved to be New Haven’s final true shot opportunity.
Scotland County got off to a solid start. After New Haven scored the game’s opening field goal, SCR-I answered with a 7-0 run. Chelsea Wood scored in the paint before Abi Feeney converted on a drive to the rim.. Maddie Brassfield drained a three-pointer to make the score 7-2 with 3:09 left in the opening quarter.
But a Wood field goal was the lone points for the remainder of the opening period as the Shamrocks took a 13-11 lead at the buzzer.
Wood found Bair with a nice pass on a back-door play that knotted the score to start the second quarter.
Wood was on the scoring end of a nice pass from Feeney who then drilled a step-back three-pointer to push the lead to 18-13 and force a New Haven timeout with 5:57 on the clock.
SCR-I battled a bit of foul trouble after that as both Ashleigh Creek and Wood were forced to the bench with two fouls.
Bair picked up the slack, scoring on a drive to the hoop before sinking a three-pointer. A pair of free throws by Wood gave SCR-I a 25-19 lead at the half.
Wood scored on a drive to the bucket to start the third period and give SCR-I a 27-19 lead. But the momentum quickly slipped away as New Haven answered with a 10-0 run to pull ahead 29-27 with 2:56 to play.
Abi Feeney, an 81% free throw shooter on the year, missed a pair from the charity stripe, indicative of how the Lady Tigers shooting went even further south after a not so hot shooting performance in the opening 16 minutes.
Big Shot Brassfield came to the rescue. The senior forward with a knack for delivering clutch buckets, swished a huge three-pointer with 1:34 to go in the quarter and Wood followed with a bucket on the next possession to allow SCR-I to pull ahead 32-29 heading into the fourth quarter.
The final eight minutes was all about defense for SCR-I. Bair came up with a steal and went coast-to-coast for the fast break bucket to extend the lead to 34-29.
Creek blocked a shot on the next New Haven possession and then drew a charging foul one series later. Feeney went to the floor to gobble up a steal and was able to call a timeout to preserve the possession for the Lady Tigers.
Unfortunately, all those defensive stops were absolutely necessary, as the Lady Tigers managed just two field goals in the fourth period.
New Haven was able to pull within a point before Wood tallied the Lady Tigers final point with 1:06 left to play when she made one of two free throws to make the score 37-35.
Feeney had a little deja vu when she again dove on the floor to swipe a steal and had to call a timeout to keep from turning the ball over or being tied up for a jump ball with just 32.5 seconds left.
Unfortunately for the senior she had a similar repeat performance at the free throw line, missing the front end of the one-and-one.
That set up the New Haven timeout with just 12.4 seconds to play.
After the key steal, Creek was fouled with 7.9 ticks left on the clock. Again SCR-I was unable to add to the lead as Creek’s free throw would not go down. Wood gobbled up a critical offensive rebound, before the ball was knocked out of her hands out of bounds with just 5.2 seconds to play.
Shultz went to the perfect inbounds play that used a triple screen to free up Feeney, who alertly caught the ball and raced away from the defense, burning up all but 0.9 seconds before she was fouled.
New Haven had one last chance as Feeney’s free throw would not fall, calling an immediate timeout on the rebound. But SCR-I’s defense held the Shamrocks to a desperation full-court heave at the buzzer that went unanswered, sealing the 37-35 win for Scotland County.
Wood led all scorers with 17 points as she helped punch SCR-I’s return trip to the Elite 8 and a matchup with New Bloomfield with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The senior also grabbed nine rebounds on a night when as a team SCR-I shot just 36% overall and only 45% from the free throw line. Bair was held to just nine points while Brassfield had six points on two key three-pointers. Feeney finished with five points but added nine steals as swarming SCR-I defense led the Lady Tigers to their 26th win on the year.