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By: Corey Stott
QUEEN CITY, Mo.- 2/27/21- “That’s huge!” That was Coach Cory Shultz’s immediate and emphatic answer when asked for his initial thoughts on his Scotland County Lady Tigers’ (20-5) hard-fought 42-36 win over the top-seeded Schuyler County Lady Rams (20-6).
“With Covid and everything, the community’s been through a lot,” Shultz said. “We’ve lost a couple pretty big parts of Tiger Nation. Ellen Aylward was a big loss for us. To be able to gather around and look out here tonight and see the community all celebrating as one with not a care in the world- it’s big. It means everything to the girls and the whole community!”
Indeed, the pure elation and joy of not just the players, but the entire community that turned out to support the girls was palpable. For perhaps the first time all season, it looked, felt and sounded like a normal, raucous rivalry game. And the game itself did not disappoint.
This was the fifth meeting of these two teams. Schuyler County had won the first two, with a win in the Tri-Rivers Classic and the first regular season meeting. Scotland County had won the next two, with a win in the North Shelby Tournament and the second regular season meeting which was also the conference game. This game would not only be the rubber game of the series. It would be for the whole enchilada. All the marbles. A district title and the chance to advance in the state tournament series. Cue the “let’s get ready to rumble” internet memes. They are very much appropriate in this case.
It was very obvious that the ladies were just as aware of the importance of the game as the fans, and both teams played very tight to start the game. The first points in the game did not come until the 5:00 minute mark with a Scotland County bucket. A combination of tough defense by both teams and nerves causing missed shots at the rim led to a low scoring defensive affair.
Eventually, Scotland County built up a 5-1 lead at the 3:00 mark before the Lady Rams came charging back to tie it at five apiece with just under 2:00 minutes left in the first period. A minute and a half later MaKinley Aeschliman connected in the paint for two and followed it up with a buzzer beating 3-pointer to end the quarter. Schuyler suddenly led 10-5 after a 9-0 run to close out the period.
The Tigers fought back in the second quarter, and an Aayla Humphrey 3-pointer from the top of the key followed by an Emiley Dial basket off the inbounds pass got the Lady Tigers within striking range. With 1:33 to play in the half, Abby Doster went to the free throw line and hit a pair to give Scotland County the 15-14 lead. Hannah Feeney then picked up an assist to Doster a minute later to add to the tally. By halftime, the Lady Tigers had outscored the Lady Rams 12-6 in the quarter for a 17-16 lead behind Dial’s nine points.
The game became an intense bout of back and forth for the majority of the second half. Both teams traded the lead and by the end of the third quarter it was a 26-26 tie. The fourth quarter was much the same, until Humphrey connected on another huge 3-pointer from the left corner, giving the Lady Tigers a 33- 30 lead with 4:47 to play. Coming out of the ensuing Schuyler County timeout, Feeney drove the lane for the scoop and score to give Scotland County their largest lead in quite some time at 35-30.
But as was frequently the case in this game, the Lady Rams battled back and within a couple minutes it was back to a one-point game. With 1:20 left to play, Alaynna Whitaker scored a power basket in the paint to give Scotland County a 39- 36 lead.
In the following sequence of plays, Schuyler County’s youth and inexperience at the guard position reared its head, and several consecutive turnovers took away any chance the Lady Rams had at the comeback. With 1.2 seconds remaining, Feeney was fouled and stepped to the line for a one-and-one. She nailed the front end, making it a two-possession lead. The Lady Tigers cleared out of the lane to avoid a foul, and Feeney intentionally missed the second shot to run the clock.
But Kylee Stott was actively moving to rebound the ball and managed to drive the lane for a buzzer beating layup to make the final score a 42-36 repeat district championship victory for Scotland County.
Asked if he expected the game to be the defensive struggle that it was, Shultz replied “I knew it was gonna be that way. I told them going in this game might not get out of the 30’s and it just barely did. We iterated that every possession is gonna matter because that one possession might cost us the game. To be able to execute down the stretch and defensively get a few big turnovers down the stretch to get enough to win was huge.”
Feeney led all scorers with 15 points. Dial and Whitaker scored 9 apiece. Doster had 4 points, Humphrey 3 points and Stott 2 points. Junior forward MaKinley Aeschliman had 10 points for Schuyler County.
The Lady Tigers travel to New Haven on Wednesday for a 6:00 pm sectional showdown. Asked how last year’s district win and subsequent sectional loss would carry over to this year’s sectional trip, Shultz replied “Experience. We’ve been there, we know the hype and everything. That experience I think will help even the balance of being too high and not high enough. I think everybody that was sitting on the bench with us (Saturday night) except for those two sophomores were there last year so to have that experience and kind of know what it’s all about I think will help us.”