Town Crier Sports Staff
The first few minutes after the Manila Lady Lions loss to Hughes last Wednesday evening were emotional ones for first-year coach Jeff Priest and his young team. A last second three-point attempt by sophomore guard Kimberly Wise rimmed-out, and the Lady Blue Devils held on for the 64-61 win. Despite the miss Wise led all scorers on the night with 39, as far as the Blue Devils go they lost the following night in the semi's.
For the young Lady Lions, who lose only senior Heather Dozhier to graduation, the Hughes fast break was the difference, "we talked about it, all we talked about was we had to stop the quick run-out," Priest noted later, "but even when you do get back they're so quick that its tough not to foul them."
As the contest got underway Wise pushed the Lions out to the early lead behind her only two three-pointers of the game. The Manila girls were also able to work the ball inside early, despite the presence of the Blue Devil's big center Jana Cervanakova. Two minutes into the contest the Lady Lions were up 15-5, only to see Hughes answer with a couple of fast-break baskets. As the first quarter drew to a close the score stood at 15-9 in favor of the Lions. By the 5:30 mark of the second quarter the Blue Devils had cut the score to 17-13 as their press began to take its toil. Throughout the remainder of the first half the two teams stayed within a few points, with the Lady Lions holding on to a slim lead. Late in the half Manila extended their lead to 27-22 only to see Hughes cut it to 27-26 by the halftime break.
In the second half the Lady Lions tried to pull away but by the 5:50 mark of the third quarter the Blue Devils had tied the game at 33-33. Sherrika Barrett then hit a couple of free-throws to give Hughes a 35-33 lead.
As the third quarter wore on the Blue Devils pushed their lead to as much as eight points, only to see the Lady Lions answer late in the period. As the fourth quarter got underway Hughes held on to a six point lead by a score of 43-37.
The fourth quarter was a heated affair, with both teams increasing their intensity. With 5:18 left in regulation the Lady Lions tied the game at 47-47 on two Wise free-throws. But as they had earlier the Blue Devils answered and re-tied the contest at 49-49. In fact the game was also tied at 51-51 and 53-53 as the period wound down. Late free-throws gave the Hughes squad a 64-61 lead with just seconds to play. Wise got an open shot from the wing for the tie, but couldn't get it to drop.
"Sometimes the shots just don't fall," Priest noted later, "and I feel bad for Kimberly there..she got a look at an open three and that's what she's gonna' remember about the game, and she goes for 39 points". Of the Blue Devils he noted, "we knew that they were gonna' be good, but when it came down to it we had a shot at it."
Wise led all scorers with 39 points and was 13 of 17 from the free-throw line, Rebekah White finished with 10, Kelce Misner and Kristen Painter each had six in the win. Barrett led Hughes with 29 while Jasmine Troup finished with 24.
"I was just so proud of my kids," an emotional Priest added, " I told them; from the day I took this job, from June 13, and aint it crazy that it's been exactly eight months, but it's amazing how far these kids have come. It's true we didn't win as many as we wanted to, and we wanted to go another week. But like I told the kids, the thing that I'm the most proud of is how far they've come character-wise, and how much class they have," he added.
"I told the kids, girls I can be honest with you, I'm proud to say I'm your coach. And I hope that at least some of you are proud to have me as your coach," Priest said of his post-game talk with the squad. "I pleaded with them before the game, and during the game, that when it comes down to the fourth quarter make sure you push all your chips in, that you leave it out there on floor..that way when you come back in here and sit down you can say I did everything I could do to win, if it wasn't true I wouldn't tell you, but you honestly did everything you could do," he added of the team's performance.
In looking ahead Priest noted that although he only loses one senior, he will be losing a team leader, "I graduate one senior, Heather Dozhier, and although she hasn't gotten a lot of playing time she has been great leadership-wise," the coach noted. "I told her how proud I was that she had led the team, and came in and played spot minutes. I know that's hard for a senior to come in for spot minutes that way but she did it with class"
Otherwise the Lady Lions will return all their remaining players from a team which came up just four points shy of a trip to the regional tournament.