The basketball landscape at Thayer underwent a sudden and dramatic change Feb. 27.
When Lady Bobcat Head Coach Steve Atkisson announced earlier this year that he would retire at the end of the season, he no doubt had in mind a return trip to the state playoffs before he hung up his whistle at Thayer.
As it turns out, a third meeting with the Couch Lady Indians prevented that from happening.
Matched up in the semi-finals of the Class 2 District 9 Tournament in Mansfield, the top-seeded Lady Indians (24-4) turned a productive evening at the charity stripe into a 36-21 victory over fifth-seeded Thayer.
Atkisson's last edition of Lady Bobcats finish their season at 23-4, with three of those four setbacks coming at the hands of Couch. In 24 years at the Lady Cat helm, Atkission posted a record of 418-233.
This contest turned out to be both low-scoring and driven by free throws. The Lady Indians scored 18 of their 36 points on the night from the free throw line. In the last half of play, Couch scored just one field goal while getting 14 points from the line.
The Lady Cats were not so prolific from the free throw line.
For the night, Thayer was just four-for-14 from the stripe, missing numerous chances to catch up with the Lady Indians, who led wire-to-wire in the game.
Couch jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind hoops from Jessica Jones and Whitney Mills. Mills led all scorers with 14 points for the game.
Kaley Hebert (five points) hit a pair of jumpers in the first for Thayer, but Couch held a 7-4 advantage after one, thanks to the first of Kassi Burr's (eight points) two 3-pointers.
Thayer suffered through a long stretch in the second period without a field goal, until Hope Hunt hit a layup at the 1:52 mark of the frame.
Down 16-9, things got worse for Thayer as Burr drilled a trey at the halftime buzzer, giving Couch a 19-9 lead at the break.
The Lady Cats' leading scorer, Micah Stevens, just could not get on track in the first two periods and went to the locker room without a point.
That changed early in the third as Stevens (five points) busted a trey for Thayer. Chelsey Cabrales (eight points) followed with a free throw and Thayer was within six, down 19-13.
The Lady Indians took their turn at struggling finding a bucket in the third, but Couch did get a big hoop when Mills hit a layup and was fouled right before the end of the frame. Mills completed the old-fashioned 3-point play and Couch remained on top by five, 25-15, after three.
Turns out that was the Lady Indians' last hoop of the game, but Couch managed to sink enough free throws to hold Thayer at bay down the stretch.
And not only did Couch hold onto its lead from the charity stripe, it extended this lead in the process.
Three freebies, one by Lorra Wicker (six points), the other two from Tara Combs (five points) gave Couch its biggest lead of the night at 13 points, 28-15, with 7:30 left in the game.
Then in the last four-and-a-half minutes of the game, Couch outscored Thayer 8-2, all on free throws, to win round number three versus the Lady Cats, 36-21.
Sadee Risner finished the night with one point for Couch.
Samantha Oakes tallied one point for Thayer.