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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Like looking in the mirror

Thursday, March 26, 2009

GREAT SEASON: Tara Combs (left) and Whitney Mills with the fourth-place trophy Couch won at the 2009 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown. Photos/Mullins
Sometimes the hardest team to play is the one that likes to do the same things that you like to do.

Especially when that team is able to use your own strengths against you.

Playing in the third-place game of the 2009 MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown, the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs used a brand of physical defense, very similar to the one that Couch has employed all year, to edge past the Lady Indians 41-39 at Mizzou Arena March 20.

"We spent all year hurting people with our length. Everybody was worried about our zone and our length, and we came up against somebody today that gave us the same problem," Couch Head Coach Cecil Meyer said after the game. "Now I know what everybody (Couch's opponents) has been through this year. They're (New Franklin) like a mirror image of us. Late in games, we're usually the ones that get people tired and get them to turn the ball over."

Although New Franklin (29-3) led wire-to-wire in the game, Couch (27-5) made things interesting with a hard push in the fourth.

The Lady Bulldogs held a 30-25 advantage going into the final frame, but Jessica Jones (four points) opened the fourth with a bucket and Tara Combs (nine points) sank two charity tosses to pull Couch within two points, 31-29.

With a shade under two minutes left in the game, Lizzie Nessling (three points) dropped in a pair of freebies to keep the Lady Indians hanging around, down 35-33 with 1:49 left.

But on New Franklin's end of the court, the Lady Bulldogs always managed to have an answer and were able to keep Couch from pulling even.

"At one point in the fourth quarter we're down two points and have the basketball," Meyer said. "We didn't get the shot to go down, but if that one goes in, then they have to play offense. They got real patient in the fourth quarter, which is what we usually do."

The Lady Bulldogs hit four straight free throws to build their lead to 39-33, when Couch unloaded what was left in its cannon.

Whitney Mills hit a 3-ball with four ticks left and the Lady Indians immediately fouled New Franklin's Samantha Ginter on the inbounds.

Needing her to miss at least one free throw, Ginter didn't corporate and sank both, giving the Lady Bulldogs a 41-36 lead with three seconds left.

That was just enough time for one last bolt of thunder from Mills.

Crossing half-court, she tossed in a huge trey that went through the net just as the buzzer sounded, setting the final score at 41-39, New Franklin. Mills led all scorers with 16 points in the game.

"It was a physical game," said New Franklin Head Coach Benji Dorson. "Couch has got a quality team. We knew they were going to fight."

And fight is just what both teams did.

New Franklin's Kelsea McClell hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the first period to help the Lady Bulldogs to a 10-8 lead after one. McClell scored all 10 of team's first-period points.

The Lady Indians were looking to get the ball down the floor for some easy baskets in the second, but New Franklin's defense would just not give an inch.

"I noticed in the first half we weren't getting the break going up the middle, we were getting up the sideline," said Meyer. "And they were catching us over there, stopping the ball and trapping. That limited what we could do."

Mills scored six points in the second, but New Franklin's Katie Chitwood hit a pair of treys in the last minute-and-a-half to push the Lady Bulldogs on top 22-16 at the break.

Couch opened the third by getting the ball to the rim on a couple of occasions, but the Lady Indians just could not get any shots to drop, once again, due to the New Franklin defense.

"We could get the ball in the middle, but there was no help there because of their length," Meyer said. "They go 6-1, 6-1 in there. And then outside, they're awful long, too. Every shot we took was contested."

Lorra Wicker (four points) did rack up a hoop in the lane and Sadee Risner hit Couch's first 3-pointer of the game with 1:15 left in the third, but New Franklin led 30-25 after three.

And although the Lady Indians got within two points in the fourth, New Franklin ended the 2009 season by taking the third-place game 41-39.

While Couch most definitely would have liked to have the outcome of their two-day stay in Columbia reversed, Combs, playing in her final game in a Lady Indian uniform, was still over-whelmed by the just-completed season.

"It's been awesome. This has been the best team that I've ever been on," she said. "I couldn't ask for a better team or a better coach. Just having the record that we did and getting here ... I"m going to miss everybody."

After all, it's not every team that gets a chance to play on such a big stage, for such a big prize.

"It's pretty amazing. Once I stepped on that floor ... wow," Mills said. "I got a little nervous, but it was just awesome."

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