They had to survive a couple of potential game-winning attempts, along with one inadvertent whistle, but the Thayer Lady Bobcats managed to top the physical Ava Lady Bears 46-44 in South Central Association play Feb. 5.
And as it always seems to when these two foes match up, this one came down to the wire.
With 1:01 remaining in the game, the Lady Cats held a narrow 42-41 and had possession of the ball.
But the Lady Bears ended up with the basketball in their hands and Ava's point guard nailed a big 3-pointer on the other end to put the Ava on top 44-42.
Then it was Micah Stevens' turn for a big play. She drove the lane and hit a layup for two of her team-high 18 points, locking the score at 44-all.
Thayer's on-the-ball pressure forced an Ava turnover, and as the clock counted under 10 seconds, Kristen Earls tossed in a wide-open layin, edging Thayer in front 46-44. Earls had a big night with 14 points for the Lady Bobcats.
With only two ticks left on the clock, the Ava coach called timeout.
Ava inbounded the ball the length of the court, but the pass sailed through the legs of a Lady Bear and out of bounds.
However, the referee had blown the whistle, which turned out to be an inadvertent whistle. So instead of Thayer having the ball, the Lady Bears got another chance at the game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds left.
This time, Ava's full-court pass was handled cleanly and the Lady Bears got a layup out of the deal. But the attempt bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded, giving Thayer a heart-stopping two-point SCA victory over a quality Ava squad.
The Lady Bears brought some size, plenty of speed and lots of hustle with them.
But with constant hustle from Kaley Hebert (six points), Stevens, Earls, Sara Riley and Samantha Oaks (eight points), Thayer did create some turnovers early in the game.
Earls found some open spots along the baseline to drop in a couple of easy buckets, putting the Lady Bobcats up by two, 10-8, at the end of one.
More pressure and a change of pace on offense was on display in the second period.
The Ava Lady Bears were sitting back in a 2-3 zone, so in typical Coach Cliff Hawkins style, the Lady Cats simply held the ball. This patience paid off as some high-percentage shots came from good passing by the Lady Cats, pushing Thayer in front 22-14 at the halftime break.
In the second half, the Lady Bears worked the ball inside to their junior center Kayla Dooms. She responded with some good play in the paint, on her way to a game-high 25 points.
Earls battled strong under the goal, as did all the Lady Cats, but the good hands and close-up shots Ava was getting could not be prevented, and the Lady Bears pulled close to end the third down 31-29.
The final eight minutes was like a chess match.
As Ava sat in the zone, the Lady Cats played catch and ran the clock. Hebert penetrated the free throw line as the Lady Bears defense collapsed, and she passed off to Earls under the hoop to keep Thayer in front.
And in the end, the Lady Bobcats were able to stay up, knocking off Ava 46-44.