Sometimes the worst thing about jumping out to a big lead early in a game is having to spend the rest of the night fighting off a spirited charge from your opponent.
But the Thayer Lady Bobcats did just that, grabbing a 17-point lead in the first half of play against the Alton Lady Comets in the third-place game of the Van Buren Lady Dawg Classic Dec. 1.
And though they spent a lot of energy maintaining that lead down the stretch, the fifth-seeded Lady Cats managed to hold Alton, the tourney's number two seed, at bay long enough to post a 58-55 win to take home third place in the annual event.
The Lady Comets actually got within two points of Thayer on a couple of occasions in the fourth period, but just couldn't get all the way over the hump.
Jessica Bailey (nine points) popped a pair of big treys midway into the fourth while Shelli Ellis (17 points) and Lauren Hatten (14 points) got loose in the paint long enough to sink a couple of hoops that pulled Alton within two, 53-51, with 2:52 left in the game.
Micah Stevens and Chelsey Cabrales then restored order for Thayer with back-to-back buckets that pushed the Lady Bobcats back in front 57-51. Stevens led Thayer with a game-high 24 points on the night, with Cabrales adding 16 for the Lady Cats.
A layup by Ellis with three ticks left on the clock pulled Alton within three, 58-55, and the Lady Comets called an immediate timeout to set up their defense.
This plan worked, as when Thayer inbounded the ball under Alton's basket, the Lady Comets managed to slap the ball away from the Lady Bobcats.
But Alton just didn't have enough time to get a good look at a 3-pointer, and the final horn sounded with Thayer clutching a 58-55 victory.
The Lady Comets started the contest ice-cold from the floor, and that frigid shooting allowed Thayer to open up a big lead in the first period.
Stevens had 11 points in the frame for Thayer, while the Lady Cats closed the first on a 10-2 run to hold an 18-7 advantage to start the second period.
Thayer's lead continued to bloom in the second, as turnovers kept the Lady Comets from generating any kind of positive momentum. Alton's first field goal in the frame didn't come until the 1:43 mark on an old-fashioned 3-point play from Ellis.
Hope Hunt hit Thayer's last two hoops of the first period, sending the teams to intermission with the Lady Bobcats enjoying a 32-17 lead.
Samantha Oakes (eight points) knocked down Thayer's first two buckets of the third period, before Alton finally found a bit of solid ground.
Courtney Gazaway (13 points) pumped in nine straight points for the Lady Comets to keep hope alive.
By the end of the third, Alton had put together enough of a run to trail by just 10, 44-34, heading into the last eight minutes of play.
Then in the fourth, spurred on by Bailey's long treys, the Lady Comets got as close as two points to Thayer, but in the end, the Lady Bobcats managed to lead the game wire-to-wire, fending off a late push to win 58-55.
Kristen Earls finished with four points for Thayer, while Kaley Hebert added two.
Mickey Moulder recorded two points for the Lady Comets.