Over the course of their last four post-season games, the Thayer Lady Bobcats had shown a remarkable knack for being able to shake off a slow start, or shrug off a sluggish period, letting neither thing keep them from victory.
This was true against Hartville in the district finals, against Neelyville in the sectionals, against Meadow Heights in the quarterfinals and against Canton in the state semifinals. In all four of those outings, the Lady Cats found a way to overcome those bugaboos and rally to victory.
However, that ability to play from behind finally abandoned Thayer in the Class 2 State Championship game March 20 at Mizzou Arena on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
The Harrisburg Lady Bulldogs used their size and athletic prowess to open up a double-digit lead in the game's first eight minutes against Thayer, paving the way for a 52-40 victory for Harrisburg.
It was Harrisburg's (31-0) first-ever state championship in girls' hoops, while Thayer (28-4) was playing in the girls' final four for the first time in school history.
Behind an impressive trapping defense that kept Thayer from finding a flow on offense, the Lady Bulldogs jumped out to a fast 8-0 lead in the first period. When Harrisburg wasn't turning the Lady Cats over, the Lady Bulldogs were using their size to get plenty of second-chance shots via offensive rebounds.
"When you're 5-2, 5-3 and shooting over 5-11 players, that's pretty tough in itself," said Thayer Head Coach Cliff Hawkins. "And we've not seen a run-and-jump press all year long. We've only been pressed three times, against Neelyville both times and then this bunch. We tried to dribble through it too much instead of backing back out, but we got in a big hurry and turned it over and they shot a couple of layups."
The Lady Cats' first points of the game came with 3:57 left in the first on a short jumper by Laken Martin (six points). Thayer's next field goal came almost two minutes later on a jumper from Kaley Hebert (11 points) that left Thayer in a 14-4 hole after the first period.
"They're not 31-0 for nothing," Hawkins said. "They're the best team we've seen all year long, by far. They're just so much bigger and stronger than us -- we couldn't rebound with them. And we really struggled in the first quarter -- got down 10 points and just never could get over the hump."
Thayer kept Harrisburg from running away early in the second with hoops from Whitney Mills (nine points, 10 rebounds), Hebert and Martin.
Samantha Oakes (seven points) nailed a jumper with 2:55 left until the half that pulled Thayer within seven points, 21-14, but Harrisburg had the last say in the frame.
Ashley Fisher (20 points) canned a pair of treys, the last coming right before the buzzer, to send the teams to intermission with Harrisburg on top 27-16.
"They hit those big 3s right before the half and instead of us going in (to halftime) down seven, we're down 11," Hawkins said. "And that was a big difference in the game, us getting behind early." The start to the third period was certainly not what the Lady Cats wanted coming out of the locker room at the halftime break.
Harrisburg went on a 9-2 early in the stanza to extend its lead to 36-18.
Oakes hit three straight free throws to end the third, but Thayer was down 40-24 after three.
The Lady Bobcats did outscore Harrisburg 16-12 in the fourth, but it was not enough to keep the Lady Bobcats from claiming the Class 2 State Championship with a 52-40 win over Thayer.