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By Corey Stott
MOBERLY, Mo.- 3/5/22- It wasn’t the ending they wanted to write for their storied run this season. But when the ink had dried on the score book, Coach Cory Shultz and his Scotland County Lady Tigers had come up just one point short of punching a return ticket to the Class 2 Final Four.
The Fitzsimmons- John Arena on the Moberly Area Community College campus was far from full at the noon tip time, but the late-arriving crowd quickly filled in the seats and the energy level spiked big time. The neon-clad student section was in full throat and it definitely felt like a big-time game atmosphere.
Scotland County controlled the tip and the game at the outset. Alaynna Whitaker was an irresistible force in the paint, scoring the first six points for the Lady Tigers. Scotland County picked up right where they left off in the second half of the game versus Cairo, continuing their thieving ways defensively and turning it into offensive points. By the time the dust had settled at the end of the first quarter, Scotland County had all the momentum and a 10-5 lead. Whitaker had eight of those points.
Whitaker again got things rolling for Scotland County in the second quarter with a shot in the paint just 30 seconds in. With 3:48 to play in the half, the Lady Tigers led 17-10.
At that point, the Lady Saints called timeout to talk things over.
After the timeout, momentum began to shift in this game. 5’8” senior guard Hailey Arnold began to heat up from outside. She hit back to back 3-pointers to pull the Lady Saints within one. 5’11” junior forward Marissa Heins drilled a shot in the paint to give St. Paul Lutheran their first lead at 18-17 with 1:50 to play in the half.
The Scotland County shooting had gone ice cold over the second half of the quarter, but a Hannah Feeney layup with 46 seconds to play in the half gave the Lady Tigers the halftime lead at 19-18.
The second half began with Abby Curry getting a layup on the Lady Tigers’ opening possession of the third quarter. Emiley Dial got a steal and Curry hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 24-18. A couple minutes later Feeney made an impressive layup and got the and-one to make it 27-21 Scotland County.
But that’s when the offense seemed to go cold again. The Lady Saints had made a concerted effort to double team Whitaker since late in the first half and Scotland County struggled to find offense aside from Feeney. The Lady Tigers held off the charge of the Lady Saints through the remainder of the period, leading 35-30. But you could sense the growing offensive uncertainty of the Lady Tigers and the building confidence of the Lady Saints.
Scotland County got the ball to start the fourth, but the Lady Saints drew first blood with a JaeSi Hentges 3-pointer to pull within two, trailing 35-33. After going the first three minutes of the quarter without a bucket, Shultz called a timeout to try and settle his troops down.
But out of the timeout, Arnold took it to the rim for the layup and the tie at 35 all with 4:35 to play. Heins drew a foul on the next rebound and went to the line to make both ends of a one-and-one. With 4:17 to play, the Lady Saints led 37-35.
A Curry 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:50 to play pulled Scotland County within one, trailing 41-40. But coming out of a timeout right after that shot, the Lady Tigers fouled Adrien Martens. She went to the line and knocked down both shots to lead 43-40 with 1:45 to play.
But the Lady Tigers battled back, and Feeney drew contact to step to the line.
She was clutch as usual and made both shots to pull her team back within one, trailing 43-42 with 1:04 to play.
On the ensuing inbound play, Scotland County got a steal and Dial drove the paint for a layup. The shot didn’t go down but she stepped to the line with an opportunity to grab the lead. She was unable to convert either shot, but Whitaker pulled down the rebound on the second shot and put it back in to give Scotland County the lead 44-43 with just under a minute to play.
With 25.7 seconds to play, Arnold drew a foul from Curry and went to the line. She made both shots and St. Paul Lutheran regained the lead 45- 44.
The final seconds were very active. An inadvertent whistle with 16.9 seconds to play gave the Lady Tigers the ball under their own basket. On the ensuing play, a Curry 3-pointer from the top of the key fell short. But the Lady Tigers caught a break and it went out of bounds off a Lady Saint.
Scotland County had the ball under the bucket and got it in to Whitaker on the right baseline. She had the ball knocked away out of bounds, but it again stayed with the Lady Tigers. There were 4.7 seconds left on the clock with Scotland County trailing by one. On the next inbound attempt from the left sideline, near the free throw line extended, the pass inbounds was deflected out of bounds off one of the Lady Saints.
Scotland County was to have one more attempt to inbound and score from the sideline with just 3.8 seconds to play in the game. Feeney’s inbound pass came in to Dial, who immediately passed back to Feeney. She drove the left baseline but got trapped under the bucket. She was forced to put up a tough shot through contact at the buzzer, and as that shot fell away unsuccessful, the Lady Tigers saw their season come to an abrupt and stunning conclusion. The St. Paul Lutheran Lady Saints had defeated Scotland County 45- 44.
Martens led all scorers with 17 points for the Lady Saints. Arnold had 11 points. Scotland County was led by Whitaker with 16 points. Feeney had 13, Curry 11, Aayla Humphrey and Dial had 2 points each.
“They made more plays than we did,” Shultz said after the game. “They made some big free throws down the stretch and we got pretty tight at the end there.” He added that he felt his team was a bit shell-shocked to be in that situation at the end and that it showed in their execution in the final minutes. Asked about the offense going cold, he said “I thought they did a good job doubling (Whitaker) and we weren’t really ready for that.”
The Lady Tigers saw their season come to an end, but not before racking up a third straight district championship, a second straight sectional championship and a third straight Lewis and Clark conference championship. They finish the year 24-4.