To say that the Viola Lady Longhorns have been on a major roll lately would be something of an understatement.
After all, in their first year at the Class AA level after moving up from Class A, all the Lady Horns did was go undefeated in the 2AA-North and win the district tournament. They are also ranked number five in Class AA hoops, and they were riding a 14-game winning streak heading into the semifinals of the Region 3 Tournament at Pleasant Plains Feb. 25.
Of course the Lady Horns' opponents in the semi-final round, the Cave City Cavewomen, were not exactly Swiss cheese.
All the NEA Invitational champion Cavewomen had done is reel off 17 wins in their last 19 outings, the two setbacks coming to the 2AA-East District Tournament champs from Newark.
So, with a berth to the state tournament on the line, it was immovable object vs. irresistible force.
Although they would trail for most of the contest, grabbing the lead for only the first time with 1:52 left in the game, the Cavewomen (34-5) proved to be just a bit too much in the late going, as they fended off the Lady Longhorns 53-50.
Viola ends its season with a mark of 27-4, while Cave City went on to knock off Newark 41-39 in the regional finals, earning the region's top seed in the state playoffs.
The game-turning events began with 2:35 left to play in the fourth period.
With her squad trailing 46-43, Cave City's Leah Fugett (15 points) was fouled behind the 3-point arc in the act of shooting, and stepping to the charity stripe, she tossed in three free throws.
This tied the game at 46-all, and Cave City took its first lead of the clash, 49-46, 40 seconds later on a triple from Katie Howell (six points).
Kyla Batterton (18 points) sank four free throws for Viola inside the two-minute mark to keep the Lady Longhorns in position to regain the lead.
But the back-breaker for Viola came with 14 ticks left on the clock.
With the ball under the Lady Horns' hoop, Cave City sent Joanna Anderson deep downcourt on a home run pattern. Making like Jerry Rice, Anderson caught the inbounds pass much like a touchdown pass on the fly near the Cave City rack, and tossed it in to stake the Cavewomen to a 53-50 advantage. Anderson paced Cave City's efforts with 17 points on the game.
Viola had a shot at a game-trying trey with nine ticks left, but the shot missed its mark and Cave City prevailed in a battle between two outstanding squads.
It took Cave City awhile to get on track, and during this time, Viola built an early lead it would enjoy for most of the game.
Batterton and Lindsey Barker both nailed triples early in the first to give Viola an 11-3 lead right off the bat. Barker tossed in a game-high 23 points for the Lady Horns, most coming on the low blocks.
Kayla Qualls (12 points) scored three points, and Anderson did the same late in the period to pull Cave City within a deuce, 11-9, after one.
Batterton busted back-to-back 3-balls for the Lady Horns in the second, helping her squad to a 21-14 lead with 4:13 left until the half.
Not to be outdone, Cave City hung around by closing the second on an 8-2 run, including a 3 at the halftime buzzer from Anderson that moved the Cavewomen closer, down 23-22 at the break.
Viola wasn't easily swayed in the third, as the Lady Longhorns finished the frame on a 6-3 run.
Batterton hit a jumper and Barker and Micah Thompson added layups to stake Viola to a 35-29 lead after three.
Anderson responded by draining her third 3-pointer of the game to open the fourth for Cave City.
The Cavewomen kept chipping away at Viola's margin until they caught up with the Lady Longhorns at the 2:35 mark of the period.
Finishing the game by outscoring Viola 7-4 over the course of the game's last 1:52, Cave City earned a berth in the state tourney while ending Viola's season.
Cave City went on to knock off the Newark Lady Kangaroos 41-39 Feb. 26, gaining the region's top seed in the state tournament at Sloan-Hendrix High School this week.