They closed the game by knocking down some timely free throws, but it was a trio of big 3-pointers early in the fourth period that helped the Neelyville Lady Tigers capture the 2009 Lady Dawg Classic at Van Buren High School Dec. 5.
Down by four points, 47-43 after three, the second-seeded Lady Tigers outscored the top-seeded Thayer Lady Bobcats 30-19 in the final frame to emerge with a 73-66 victory.
Although they had most of their success from down on the low blocks or at the charity stripe, the Lady Tigers opened the fourth period with a bang from downtown.
Jackie Griffin hit one trey, while Kaitlin Morgeson added two more, all in the first four minutes of the fourth, to give Neelyville a 54-53 lead.
The Lady Bobcats would not have the lead on their side again and Neelyville hit 13 free throws down the stretch to hold Thayer at bay.
But the game was still up for grabs with two minutes left to play.
Neelyville led 65-61 when Whitney Mills hit back-to-back buckets for Thayer to edge the Lady Cats within a deuce, 65-63, with 1:54 left on the clock. Mills led all scorers with a game-high 27 points on the night.
Brittany McElhaney stopped Thayer's mini run with a jumper at the minute mark. Thayer still had its chances, but two turnovers inside 45 seconds left to play kept the Lady Cats from getting any closer.
Lacey Hawkins knocked down a 3-pointer with a couple of ticks left, but the Lady Tigers held on for a 73-66 victory.
It was evident both teams dearly wanted the Lady Dawg crown as the tone was set for a tough, physical affair right off the bat, complete with plenty of bodies hitting the floor.
Neither team could find a comfort zone on offense in the early going and the play was at times ragged.
The Lady Cats were on top 7-6 midway into the first period when Neelyville used a 5-0 run to help the Lady Tigers in front 13-11 after one.
Neelyville enjoyed the lead for most of the second, but two free throws from Kaley Hebert (20 points), plus a steal and layup by Mills, pushed Thayer ahead 26-25.
A buzzer-beating trey ensured that Thayer took this advantage to the half.
With time winding down late in the second, Mills grabbed Neelyville's last missed shot attempt of the period and hit Hebert with a pass at halfcourt. Hebert took one step and then drilled a big-time 3-ball at the buzzer from just inside halfcourt to send the teams to intermission with Thayer leading 36-32.
Samantha Oakes tossed in six of her 11 points for the game in third, helping to keep the Lady Bobcats on top 47-43 after three.
But in the final stanza, Neelyville finally managed to break on top for the first time in the second half, and once there, the Lady Tigers refused to budge until they had knocked off Thayer 73-66.
Laken Martin finished with four points for the Lady Bobcats, while Lauren Hargus added one.
Chelsey Maupin paced Neelyville with 15, while Griffin had 14.
In the semi-final round Dec. 3, Thayer blasted Twin Rivers 54-24.
The Lady Cats led 22-7 after the first period and never looked back.
Mills led the way with 20 points, while Oakes added 15.
In the first round Nov. 30, Thayer hammered Ellington 78-27 behind 24 points from Mills.