It was a textbook example of senior leadership at its finest.
With a district title and trip to the Class 2 State Tournament on the line, Kaley Hebert and Whitney Mills refused to let a near-disastrous third period derail the Thayer Lady Bobcats.
Instead, Hebert and Mills took complete control of the fourth and overtime frames, leading the Lady Cats to the district crown with a scrappy, hard-earned 62-53 overtime victory over a very-talented Hartville squad in the finals of the Class 2 District 2 finals March 6 in Thayer.
Hartville finished as district runners-ups last season, falling to the Couch Lady Indians in the championship game.
Hebert led all scorers with a game-high 28 points before fouling out early in overtime, while Mills followed with 20 points, including some clutch free throws in OT.
The win over Hartville secured Thayer a spot in the sectional round of the state playoffs March 10 in Poplar Bluff.
The Lady Cats' opponent in the sectional round was Neelyville (26-1).
After what was an ultra-competitive first half of play, top-seeded Thayer (25-3) took a 23-22 lead into the halftime break.
But then the wheels nearly came off in the third period.
The second-seeded Lady Eagles (14-12) came out of the intermission break on a mission, while the Lady Cats didn't look so sharp.
While Thayer was missing shots and turning the ball over, Hartville was stitching together a 10-0 run that saw the Lady Bobcats trailing 32-23.
Thayer's first points in the frame didn't come until the 1:35 mark when Laken Martin (six points) hit a hoop in the paint for the Lady Cats.
Mills helped the Lady Cats close the period on a positive note with a huge 3-ball near the end of the stanza, but Thayer was still in a 34-28 hole after three.
But the shoe was on the other foot early in the fourth.
Thayer turned up the defensive pressure and Hartville suddenly became rattled, turning the ball over.
Hebert and Mills combined to score Thayer's first 10 points of the frame, pushing the Lady Bobcats in front 40-38 with 4:20 left in the fourth.
The Lady Eagles, however, kept pushing back and a layup from Amber Percival (16 points) tied the game at 49-all with 29 seconds left.
Hebert broke the tie with two charity tosses, but Percival added two more from the free throw stripe to lock matters at 49-all with 18 ticks showing.
Thayer had the last shot at breaking the knotted game, but a long trey at the buzzer was off target, sending the game to overtime at 49-all.
In the extra period, Hartville finally ran out of gas, while Thayer closed strong.
Hebert hit a layup right off the bat to give Thayer a lead it would hold for the duration of OT.
Then in the last 1:30 of overtime, Mills went six-for-six from the free throw line to help secure the district title for the Lady Bobcats.
The early stages of the contest were up for grabs, with the game squared at 12-all after one period of play.
The Lady Eagles hit the first two shots of the second to ease in front 17-12, but Samantha Oakes (seven points) halted the Hartville run with a jumper, followed by buckets from Hebert and Mills that helped Thayer to a 23-22 lead at the break.
Lauren Hargus finished with one point for Thayer.
The Lady Cats pushed past the Couch Lady Indians, defending district champions and state semi-finalists from last year, 35-29 in the district semis March 3.
Martin scored 11 points to lead Thayer, while Mills and Hebert followed with nine points each for the Lady Bobcats against Couch.