Walk into any basketball practice at any level, and it's a sure bet you'll hear the coach stressing the importance of blocking out on missed shots to his team. You never know when a missed defensive rebound will turn into second-chance points for the opposition, maybe even the game-winning points.
This scenario was played out big-time Feb. 11 in the championship game of the 2AA-North Junior High Tournament's girls' division at the Bluebirds' Nest in Mount Pleasant.
The top-seeded Calico Rock junior Lady Pirates used a last-second stickback of a missed shot to overturn an upset bid from the third-seeded Melbourne Lady Bearkatz, by a count of 35-34.
With Calico Rock down by a point, 34-33, junior Lady Pirate Hannah Wright (15 points) tried to put her team on top with a short jumper in the paint as the last seconds ticked off the fourth-period clock.
Wright's shot was a bit strong, but the ball bounded to the side of the hoop Kori Lamb was standing on. Lamb (12 points) grabbed the rebound and tossed it back in with three ticks left on the clock, giving the junior Lady Pirates a 35-34 advantage. Lamb was also hacked on the way, and went to the line with a chance to add another point to the lead that Calico Rock had swiped.
Lamb's charity toss missed, but Melbourne couldn't get off a decent shot, giving Calico Rock a thrilling one-point victory for the tourney title. The junior Lady Pirates were also regular season champs in the 2AA-North junior high race.
Calico Rock held the lead for most of the night, but the junior Lady Katz shot themselves back into contention with some timely treys in the second half of play.
With her team in a 24-20 hole after three periods of play, Melbourne's MaKenzi Gillihan (six points) opened the final frame with a huge 3-ball that pulled Melbourne within a point.
The junior Lady Bearkatz then managed to pull even with Calico Rock at 31-all on a trey from Kaylee Ables (14 points) at the 51-second mark of the fourth, setting up a frantic rush to the finish line between the two squads.
After Ables' big shot, the junior Lady Pirates threw the ball away on their next possession, but then stole it back from Melbourne as the junior Lady Katz tried to inbound the ball under Calico Rock's hoop.
Offensive rebounding, much as it would later, came up big, as the junior Lady Pirates' first shot off the steal missed its mark. But Wright grabbed the board and hit a short jumper to break the tie, giving Calico Rock a 33-31 lead with 24 seconds left.
Melbourne, too, showed it could get aggressive on the offensive backboards, as Maggie Cooper proved 14 seconds later.
Amanda Treat (two points) had pulled the junior Lady Katz within one point, 33-32, on the first of two free throws as she was fouled driving to the hoop.
Treat missed her second free throw opportunity, but Cooper (12 points) was in position to snag the rebound and put it back into the hole, giving the junior Lady Katz their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
But Calico Rock would have the last rebound, and last hoop on this night, as Lamb's putback with three seconds left in the game gave the junior Lady Pirates a hard-earned district tournament crown.
Calico Rock took an 11-8 lead into the second period, and remained in front 17-15 at the half.
After ripping off the first six points of the third, the junior Lady Pirates had moved on top 23-15.
Melbourne got going in the frame with a 3-ball from Gillihan, coupled with a bucket in the paint from Ables that pulled the junior Lady Bearkatz within three, 23-20 deep in the third.
Emily Jenkins (six points) capped the frame for Calico Rock with a free throw that built the junior Lady Pirates' advantage to 24-20 after three.
Despite a gritty effort in the last minute of the game from the junior Lady Katz, Calico Rock managed to end the night on top.
Tori Rush finished with two points for the junior Lady Pirates.