It looked as though the Buffalo Island Central Lady Mustangs were about to give away their first round game against Danville in the Class AA State Basketball Tournament Tuesday afternoon at Jessieville as they committed six straight fourth quarter turnovers after holding a 49-39 lead with 4:55 left in the game.
But when it counted most, it was the Lady Mustangs who came up with the biggest turnover of the night when sophomore Jessica Shepard came away with a loose ball on a wild scramble in the waning seconds of the game with BIC holding a slim 49-48 lead. When the dust had settled, BIC was awarded the basketball as a jump ball was called with 4.5 seconds left. The Lady Mustangs in-bounded the ball to Shepard, who was fouled with 2.5 seconds remaining, where she went to the free throw line to shoot the one and one. Shepard made the first free throw, but misfired on the second and Danville's Misty Bewley threw up one last prayer from mid court which missed the mark, allowing the Lady Mustangs to escape with a harrowing 50-48 victory.
Danville outscored BIC 9-0 to pull within 49-48 and set up for the last shot with 33 seconds left after BIC's sixth consecutive turnover. The Lady Little Johns worked the ball around the perimeter for the last shot but Bewley lost the handle on the ball, resulting in the battle for the ball that ultimately gave BIC their first ever State Tournament win.
The Lady Mustangs led throughout most of the first half as they built a 15-12 first period lead behind a balanced scoring attack which included two three pointers by sharpshooter Jessica Shepard. BIC grabbed their biggest lead when senior Nan Lee Bridges scored from inside with 36 seconds left in the half, giving the Lady Mustangs a 26-17 advantage, which they carried over into intermission.
BIC continued to hold their lead in the third quarter behind the strong inside play of Ashley Tate, who finished the night with 13 points to go along with several key rebounds. With BIC leading 34-25 after a Shepard lay-up at the 4:04 mark, the Lady Little Johns battled back at the free throw line, hitting 6-8 to pull within 34-31 with 1:46 left in the quarter. Shepard and Tate came up with back to back offensive stick backs to build the BIC lead to 38-31 before Bewley scored just in front of the buzzer to bring Danville within 38-33 entering the final quarter.
Stephanie Baldridge started the fourth quarter by hitting her second three pointer of the game and when Tate scored on a nifty pass from point guard Kasey Garrett, the Lady Mustangs had their biggest lead of the night, 47-37, with 5:16 to go. The two teams traded buckets as the Mustangs held a 10 point lead at the 4:55 mark, setting up the game's final frantic minutes.
Shepard led the Lady Mustangs with 15 points while Bridges added 12. Baldridge netted six while Lauryn Smith added four. BIC connected on 61 percent of their field goal attempts, including a 4-9 performance from beyond the three point arc. The Lady Mustangs finished the night 4-7 from the free throw line.
Bewley, who rallied Danville by scoring 10 of her game high 19 points in the fourth quarter, paced the Lady Little Johns. Lisa Beck added 10 while Kaitlyn Weindel tallied nine. Danville played the game without star post player Caitlin Ramey who sat out with a broken left foot.
Danville hit 50 percent of their field goal attempts, including a 4-10 performance from behind the three point line. The Lady Little Johns connected on 9-13 from the foul line, including a perfect 6-6 performance by Beck.
"We didn't take care of the ball late in the game," said BIC Coach Mike Kinard, "but this is a State Tournament game and the referees let you play. All around, we had a lot of players play very well. Ashley Tate played just incredible. Stephanie Baldridge hit a couple of big three pointers. The kids just kept battling and fighting. I am proud of that. Maybe we did get a little nervous, I don't know, but we did hang in there and kept fighting. We found out today that we belong in this tournament, and that we can compete with the best."