WAVERLY — Sometimes, it just isn’t meant to be.
After taking a 41-39 lead with 11.7 seconds left in Thursday’s Division III district semifinal against Alexander at Waverly’s Downtown Arena, things look promising for Minford’s girls.
But … it wasn’t meant to be.
When referees whistled the Falcons for a foul near their own bench, the Spartans — who were in the double bonus at the time — turned around and hit two foul shots to tie the game and, eventually, force overtime.
And, unfortunately for Minford, Alexander had just enough juice left in the tank to win the overtime period by a 7-3 margin, sealing a 48-44 win and ending the Falcons’ season.
“We battled. I won’t take anything away from our girls’ effort tonight,” Minford coach Shane Davis said. “I’m proud of this group. What do you say to a group that’s crying because they’ve put everything into this game and this night. We’re battle-tested this season. These girls, I can’t say enough about them. They gave us their all.”
The fact that Minford (18-7) shot just 12-of-27 from the free throw line certainly didn’t help matters.
“It changes the end of the ballgame if we hit foul shots,” Davis said. “That was the difference in the ballgame. Ultimately, you can’t miss 15 foul shots and expect to beat teams like [Alexander]. You can’t do it.”
If we’re being honest, according to seeds, Minford wasn’t even supposed to be in Thursday’s game in the first place. But the No. 5 seeded Falcons gave the top-seeded Spartans (22-2) all they could handle … and then some.
“Again, they battled and battled tonight,” Davis said. “If we do a few things differently down the stretch, we’re having a different conversation and we’re having a good time tonight.”
The loss forces Minford to bid farewell to seniors Ashley Blankenship and Caitlyn Puckett, a pair that has done more than enough to prove themselves worthy of basketball fans’ favor.
Blankenship ends her career as a 1,000 point scorer after spending the majority of the season posting double-doubles at will. Puckett, never one to back down from any opponent, leaves a legacy of toughness and grit after developing into one of the area’s best scorers.
“Those two have had great careers,” Davis said. “Their numbers speak for themselves. They lead leadership behind. When they say things, our girls listen. So it’s just their leadership … that’s the one thing that we’re going to miss the most. I’ll be the first to do anything for those two whenever I can.”
Tale of the tape
Minford’s Livi Shonkwiler got the scoring started with 7:14 to go in the first quarter before Alexander answered with a 10-2 run to take a six-point lead. After one, the Spartans’ lead was five at 14-9 after Jadyn Mace scored near the end of the quarter.
In the second, Alexander maintained that margin before taking a 23-15 edge into halftime.
But in the third, the Falcons began to chip away. Hannah Tolle got things started with a 3 at the 7:25 mark before Shonkwiler hit the first of two free throws, chased the rebound down on the miss, and found an open Makenzie Watters, who was fouled on a shot attempt. Watters then hit one of two free throws to force a 26-26 tie with 2:50 remaining.
The Spartans, however, got buckets from McKena Rice and Marlee Grinstead to end the quarter, taking a 30-26 advantage into the final eight minutes.
In the fourth, Minford continued to claw and scratch its way back into things. With 7:13 left, Tolle capped a 5-0 run to give the Falcons a 31-30 lead, their first lead since the 7:15 mark in the first. When Puckett hit a bucket at the 1:27 mark, the Falcons had a 37-34 edge and things looked promising … but it wasn’t meant to be.
After Maddie Slusher hit one of two free throws to put Minford up 41-39 with just 11.7 seconds left, Shonkwiler was whistled for a foul. The Spartans hit both attempts on the other end, forcing the game into overtime. And, in the extra four-minute period, after Racheal Richardson hit a 3 to put Alexander back in front at 44-43, the Falcons’ foul line woes continued.
Meanwhile, the Spartans did just enough at the charity stripe to pull out the win.
Shonkwiler led the Falcons in scoring with 12 points alongside nine rebounds while Puckett added 10 points and nine boards. Blankenship ended the evening with seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds while Tolle also added seven points.
Richardson scored a game-high 17 points for Alexander while Grinstead had 11 points and five rebounds. Rice also helped out with eight points and eight boards.
What’s on tap
While the loss of Blankenship and Puckett will certainly leave a void, the Falcons have a talented junior class coming back as seniors; one that includes Watters, Maddie Slusher, Hannah Tolle and Brittani Wolfenbarker, among others.
“We have to get better, more comfortable with the basketball,” Davis said. “We’re going to work on ball-handling like it’s our job. The girls realize that. So that’s what we’ll focus on. We have a great junior class and we’re going to have to have some younger kids step up into their roles.”
Minford: 9-6-11-15 (3) — 48
Alexander: 14-9-7-11 (7) — 44
Minford: 15-44 FG, 12-27 FT, 2-11 3pt., 43 rebounds (Blankenship 13), 24 turnovers, 7 assists (Tolle 3). Scoring: Shonkwiler 12, Puckett 10, Blankenship 7, Tolle 7, Watters 6, Slusher 2.
Alexander: 16-58 FG, 12-16 FT, 4-16 3pt., 28 rebounds (Rice 5), 14 turnovers, 9 assists (Meeks 3, Grinstead 3). Scoring: Richardson 17, Grinstead 11, Rice 8, Mace 6, Meeks 5, Rankin 1.