Prep girls basketball: Wildcats down Warriors, 54-51

VINCENT – Sometimes, you don’t necessarily have to play the best basketball game of your life to pick up a victory.

Sometimes, you just have to have the ball last.

Despite watching a 10-point lead vanish in the second half, the Waterford Lady Wildcats scored the final three points in the last 18 seconds of regulation to secure an exciting 54-51 victory over the Warren Lady Warriors in Vincent Wednesday night.

“We had several turnovers tonight, but in the end we forced a few turnovers and made a play when we needed to make a play,” said Waterford girls’ basketball coach Jerry Close.

Taking possession after an offensive foul was called against the Warriors in a tie game with 42 seconds to play, the Lady Wildcats certainly needed to make a play. And they did it in the biggest fashion when Regan Porter scored in the paint off Hannah Dailey’s assist for a 53-51 lead.

After whittling away a 10-point deficit, two may not have seemed like much to the Lady Warriors and with just eight seconds to go they had a chance to possibly tie the game when freshman Katie Rauch was fouled. At the line for a 1-and-the bonus, Rauch’s shot hit the back of the rim and Dailey collected the rebound to seal the game.

“It was a good, hard fought game,” Close said. “It could’ve went either way.”

In the end, it went Waterford’s way, which was fitting in a way since the Lady Wildcats trailed just once in the entire game.

But while they may have been trailing on the scoreboard, the Lady Warriors were by no means ready to count themselves out of the ballgame.

On three separate occasions the Lady Warriors saw the Waterford lead hit double figures, and each time they chipped away to eventually tie the game, only to watch the Lady ‘Cats take off running again.

“Against a good team, that’s pretty much how all games go,” said Warren girls’ basketball coach Amy Colgrove. “It’s a game of runs, and hopefully you have the last one.”

In truth, the Lady Warriors did have the last run as they turned a five-point deficit into a tie game in less than 12 seconds, capped by Rauch’s old-fashioned three-point play off a steal with 3:47 in regulation.

That series was part of a small, 6-2, run for Warren that knotted the score at 49-all and completed the comeback from what was a 44-34 Waterford lead, with two minutes to play in the third quarter.

Gaining possession after a Waterford turnover, the Lady Warriors appeared poised to take the last shot and secure the victory or send the game into overtime when an illegal screen was called against junior Victoria Buzzard, setting the stage for Porter’s game-winning shot.

The late game antics were just the final twist in a game that saw both teams run out of timeouts, and capitalize on the opponents misfortune. For Waterford, misfortune struck in the first quarter when standout guard Dani Drayer left the game as a precaution after she suffered a hard tumble when fouled on a three-pointer from the corner with 1:35 in the opening stanza. Drayer insisted she was fine, and even tried to take her free throws, but was kept out for protective measures after she went back down to the court when she was walking to the stripe.

“There are times in the season that make you learn a lesson and grow. Tonight was a lesson in what do you do when somebody – anybody – gets hurt,” Close said.

With their point-guard on the bench, the Lady Wildcats saw their double-figure lead vanish for the first time when Warren senior Sarah Proctor hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 20-20 with 4:31 to play before the break.

After that bucket the Lady Wildcats promptly scored 11 of the next 13 points to lead 31-22 and take a seven point lead into the break, largely due to a 20-9 advantage on the boards

“Rebounding has been an issue all year. That was definitely a key to the game,” Colgrove said. “Going into halftime they had more offensive rebounds than we had rebounds period, so a lot of their points were second and third chance.”

That trend continued into the second half as Waterford finished the game with more offensive rebounds (16) than Warren had total rebounds (15).

Down by nine after Randee Seevers hit the first bucket of the second half, the Lady Warriors again found an offensive spark and closed to within just a single possession on another pair of free throws from Proctor with 4:59 in the third. Waterford expanded the margin back out to 10 at 44-34 on a basket by Porter off Taylor Hilverding’s assist, but the lead would dwindle away into the fourth to set the stage for the game’s final theatrics.

“We needed a good win and we got one on the road,” Close said.