The teams traded scores in the late-going and it was a basket in the lane by Norphlet's Kyia Williams with 6.1 seconds to go that sealed the verdict.
Melbourne called timeout and, as anticipated, set it up to get the ball to standout guard Maggie Cooper, whose shot in the lane, which fell just short, came a split second after the final buzzer.
The loss ended the Lady Bearkatz' season at 30-8, but it was an excellent campaign, according to coach Bruce Adams. "We won our regular-season conference, the district tournament and the regional tournament and finished in the final eight in the state," he said.
"I thought we played really hard, but we didn't play quite as well as we had in recent games," the coach said. "Of course, Norphlet probably had something to do with that. They had good quickness and one girl who was tough in the post position.
"We turned the ball over too many times toward the end of the game," the coach said. "And we had been averaging in the 70s in the last few games but, once again, I'm sure Norphlet had something to do with that with their defense.
"We missed three big free throws at the end, but I am not faulting these kids for that -- they played hard and they played well."
It promised to be a close matchup as Norphlet entered the game ranked fourth in the state by and Melbourne was right behind in the fifth position.
Norphlet gained the upper hand in the early going behind the strong inside play of Ashleigh Riggs, who proved to be a tough matchup for the smaller Lady Bearkatz. The Lady Leopards were ahead 15-5, but the margin was cut to three on a 3-pointer by Kenzi Gillihan right before the end of the quarter.
Melbourne totally dominated the second quarter, outscoring Norphlet, 14-1, to take a 22-16 advantage at the halftime break.
Kenzi Gillihan and Tori Taylor each had treys to start the quarter and the Lady Bearkatz started assuming control.
The tide turned at the start of the third period as Norphlet got right back in the game with a 10-0 run to make it 26-22.
A trey by Amanda Treat stopped the Lady Leopard run and neither team managed more than a three-point lead the rest of the way in front of a packed house at the new Carlisle gymnasium.
A basket by Kaylee Ables put Melbourne on top, 26-26, heading into the final eight minutes.
It was back-and-forth in the final period as Williams scored eight points for the Lady Leopards and Karli Gillihan and Cooper netted six each for the Lady Bearkatz.
Gillihan's basket put Melbourne up, 39-38, with two minutes to go, but Williams answered for Norphlet with two free throws. Gillihan then nailed a pair of free throws for another one-point lead with 1:04 showing, but Williams again came through with a basket.
The Lady Bearkatz' final lead of the game came on an inside transition basket by Ables, but Williams then took the ball right up the middle for the game-winner for the Lady Leopards.
"Norphlet made a couple of tough shots at the end, but I wish we could have done a better job of preventing them from getting into the lane," Adams said. "Of course, that's easier said than done.
"The main thing is that we just never could get the ball with the lead," the coach said. "We could have spread it out at that point and we have been successful down the stretch of the season doing that."
Kayli Gillihan and Kenzi Gillihan led Melbourne scoring with 11 points each. Also scoring were Cooper eight, Ables five, Treat five and Taylor three.
Williams led Norphlet with 15 and Jalisha Willis had 12.
Melbourne went 12-19 at the free throw line while Norphlet was 7-14. The Lady Bearkatz had four 3-pointers in the game to only one for their opponents.
Win Over Bigelow
Melbourne opened the tournament March 2 with a 77-67 win over Bigelow. The teams were tied at 15 after one frame, but the Lady Bearkatz edged ahead 32-31 at intermission.
The Lady Bearkatz were ahead 50-46 after three period and eased to the 10-point win.
Cooper poured in 24 points for the winners, while Treat and Kenzi Gillihan joined her in double figures with 19 and 13 respectively. Also scoring were Adams nine, Ables eight and Karli Gillihan four. Emily Brackett had 18 for the Lady Panthers.
Melbourne netted 18 straight free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
"We really put points on the board in that game," the coach said, "as we had been doing in recent games. We played really well and shot free throws extremely well in the fourth quarter.
"It's always big to get a win in the state tournament and, unfortunately, we ended up just a little short of getting to the semifinals."
Melbourne had five seniors on the team, including starters Ables, Treat, Adams and Kenzi Gillihan.
Cooper, a junior, will be the only returning starter next year.
"Overall, we had a great season and I am really proud of my team," the coach said.