While the final score may look like Mount Pulaski had an easy ride
to victory lane, the game in fact was a hard-fought battle right
down to the final minute.
In the first quarter the score bounced
back and forth and ended with Jessica Awe hitting a 3 just before
the buzzer to give the Lady Toppers a 10-9 lead.
However, a brutal second quarter saw Mount Pulaski being
outscored 15-5. Going into halftime, the Lady Toppers found
themselves losing 24-15.
But the Lady Toppers have been in these situations before, and
coach Eric Leever usually finds a way to fire the girls up.
To open the third quarter Mount Pulaski went on a 10-3 run to
prove to the crowd at Redbird Arena they might have been down, but
they were definitely not out of this game. A key moment in the third
quarter was Erika Leever's 3-pointer to tie the game at 28-28 with
1:52 left. Following a couple of baskets by Cowden-Herrick's all-stater
Micah Jones, the score quickly became 32-28. Andrea Dickerson then
nailed a 3 with 12 seconds left in the third to bring the Lady
Toppers within a point, 32-31.
As the fourth quarter opened, about a minute and half of missed
baskets by both teams went by until Awe finally sank two free throws
and gave Mount Pulaski the lead at 33-32. Next there was a quick
steal by Awe and a nice pass to Dickerson, who laid it in for a
two-point bucket, giving Mount Pulaski a 35-32 lead. Leever would
follow the next possession with a huge 3 at 4:30, extending the lead
Mount Pulaski could not get too comfortable yet as Cowden-Herrick
continued to score, and with a couple of free throws from Jones, the
Lady Topper lead shrank to 38-37. With the pressure on, Dickerson
hit a jumper in the lane at 2:26, and once again the Lady Toppers
pulled away, making it 40-37. Following a missed shot by the
Hornets, Awe would rebound and go all the way down the court for two
and the foul.
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Mount Pulaski was now up 42-37 and able to stall the next
possession to run a little time off the clock. Awe was then
fouled again and bounced the first free throw in but missed the
next. This allowed Kendra Willoughby to get the offensive board
and quickly put the ball back in the basket for two. This key
play would give Mount Pulaski their biggest lead of the game at
45-37 with 1:10 left to play.
Following a basket by Micah Jones, the Hornets would quickly foul
Dickerson, who sank both her free throws. Score 47-39 Mount Pulaski.
Once again Jones drove through the lane to put two more points on
the board, but this time they would foul Awe, who also sank her free
throws. Final score 49-41 Mount Pulaski.
Despite Jones' valiant effort the entire game, her 26 points and
21 rebounds did not faze the Lady Toppers.
Leading the way in scoring for Mount Pulaski were Dickerson with
18 points, Awe with 15 points, and Leever and Willoughby with eight
Mount Pulaski (29-4) will play for its first-ever girls
basketball state championship Saturday at 2 p.m. against the
defending state champions, Aquin (30-3).
Note: Mount Pulaski is listed as a co-op with Hartsburg-Emden,
while Cowden-Herrick is a co-op with Beecher City.
[By CADY LOWERY]