WELLSTON — Simply put, Shaley Munion made absolutely sure that the Clay Lady Panthers played another day.
That’s because the junior Munion started — and ended — an improbable Lady Panther fourth-quarter comeback bid on Monday evening, book-ending basket-leading steals and spearheading a final 14-1 run to lift 17th-seeded Clay past 16th-seeded Symmes Valley 55-52 in a thrilling Division IV sectional semifinal at Wellston High School.
That’s correct — the Lady Panthers rallied from a 10-point deficit with a spirited 14 final points over the game’s final five minutes and 12 seconds.
With the victory, Clay climbed to 7-15 and —more importantly —continues its season on Thursday, when it faces the Division IV Southeast District’s top seed Notre Dame (20-2) for the sectional championship.
This is the first season in which the Southeast District has utilized a long sought-after super-sectional format for girls basketball, as ALL of the Southeast District teams —for Divisions II, III and IV — are no longer seeded and separated into two or three sectional sites.
Thus, the 16th-seeded (Symmes Valley) and 17th-seeded (Clay) squads out of 20 total played for the right to meet Notre Dame again —a fellow member of the Southern Ohio Conference Division I and once again this season’s outright and undefeated league champion.
The Lady Panthers play the Lady Titans on Thursday at 6:15 p.m. at Northwest High School.
But, for a good while, it appeared as if Tuesday’s tilt —an SOC I makeup matchup against East —was going to conclude Clay’s campaign.
The Lady Panthers — on a Jaelyn Warnock three-pointer with 36 seconds remaining in the opening quarter — took a 10-5 advantage, but were doubled up 20-10 over the next eight minutes and 36 seconds, and fell behind by as much as a 37-24 deficit with 3:55 to play in the third period.
Clay erased that deficit with a dozen unanswered points, but once again found itself down double digits with 5:12 remaining — trailing 51-41 after the Vikings’ Rachael Hayes hit her fourth and final three-point goal.
However, once might be an accident —but the second time is a trend.
The Lady Panthers — aided by the Lady Vikings’ mistakes — put together a 14-1 run to end the game, as Munion accounted for eight of her team-high 19 points over that span, including the go-ahead basket off a Warnock assist on an inbounds underneath play with 21.7 seconds left.
That made it 53-52, as Clay completed its comeback and simply stunned Symmes Valley, as Munion then made a nice clean theft of Hayes inside the final 10 seconds — and outleted ahead to McKenzie Loper for the final basket with 6.8 tics on the clock.
The Vikings’ Taylor Sells shot one from half-court at the buzzer for the tie, but it was off the mark — and the Lady Panthers pressed on.
Clay coach Scott Artis admitted it was all about “heart” from his Lady Panthers in crunch time.
“At the end, we finally started playing with that intensity that we needed to play with. It was all ‘heart’ from them. We weren’t shooting good, we weren’t doing a lot of things real well tonight to be honest,” he said. “But I think in the end it was all ‘heart’ and we just came out and made plays in that fourth quarter.”
Munion made her share of plays —on both ends of the floor.
She poured in 19 points on seven total field goals including three threes, and meshed 2-of-5 free throws, scoring 13 of her 19 in the second half.
But speaking of 13, the Lady Panthers tallied that many steals —with Munion swiping seven, including the pair which began and ended Clay’s completed comeback.
Artis said his club defended the Lady Vikings collectively — and Hayes individually — differently in the final five minutes, as opposed to the initial 27.
“We were concerned about how we would have to play them defensively at the end, considering how we played them all game. In the end, they stepped it up. I kept yelling ‘passing lanes, passing lanes, passing lanes’ and finally, they got into the passing lanes and got us a few good steals,” he said. “And we did a better job of containing Hayes near the end. She shot the ball well, but we did a good job when it counted.”
With 4:39 to play, Munion split a pair of free throws, then made her sixth steal and layup for a 51-44 deficit.
Megan Bazler then scored at the two-minute mark, before Warnock —who split a pair of foul shots earlier in the period — converted both of a one-and-one bonus situation with 1:42 to go to make it 51-48.
Hailee Littlejohn then split a pair of free throws — and ended a four-minute Lady Viking scoring drought — for a four-point lead (52-48), but Munion, after the Lady Vikings missed an ill-advised shot at around the one-minute mark, nailed her final trifecta to get Clay within one again with 38 seconds showing.
Then, a dozen seconds later, Symmes Valley turned the ball over again — on a bad pass which sailed directly into the Clay bench.
On the possession change, Warnock inbounded the ball —and found a cutting Munion right at the basket as she made the go-ahead shot and for an unlikely Clay lead.
It was Warnock’s fifth assist, part of a team 14 on 21 total made field goals.
But the Lady Vikings still had an opportunity for the win, but Munion made sure Hayes or her teammates didn’t get a shot off —as she stole from Hayes on the wing and found a wide open Loper on a runout with time running out.
While Clay shot just 32-percent on 21-of-66 attempts, including only 6-of-26 from thee-point range for 23-percent, it did grab 43 rebounds —including 18 by Warnock, who only extended her rebounding record-setting senior season.
She now has 298 boards for the year, which is an average of 13-and-a-half caroms per game.
Warnock followed Munion in scoring with 14 points — on five total field goals and her 3-of-4 fourth-quarter freebies —as she now has a dozen double-doubles.
Loper landed 10 points on two deuces and two treys, as Bazler bagged three buckets for six points.
Kelsey Fowler, with 10 rebounds, finished with four points on a field goal and 2-of-2 free throws, as Kat Cochran converted a Munion steal for a fourth-quarter basket to make it 48-41.
The fourth-quarter comeback was Clay’s second such of the second half, as it went off for 12 unanswered over a span of two minutes and 20 seconds in the third frame.
Hayes, who amassed a game-high 22 points on five twos and four threes, hit two triples — and made a good steal and layup as part of a 12-4 Lady Viking run in the opening 4:05.
The 37-24 advantage was Symmes Valley’s largest, but Munion made big book-end plays again —starting that rally with a three before ending it with a drive and basket and an opportunity at an old-fashioned three-point play.
In between, Warnock scored twice, and Loper rained in a three-ball to make it 37-34 at the 1:52 point.
Trailing 39-36 after the Lady Vikings ended a three-minute and eight-second scoring drought, the Lady Panthers had a had a chance to escape the third only down three —but they fouled Taylor Malone on a three-point shot at the buzzer.
Malone, subsequently, made all three free throws for a 42-36 Symmes Valley advantage entering the fourth — as she added four field goals towards 11 points.
Littlejohn, on two first-quarter field goals and 3-of-4 foul shots, scored seven.
The Lady Vikings, which fell to 5-17 and ended their season on Tuesday with an SOC I makeup matchup at Ironton St. Joseph — actually held leads of at least nine points in the final three quarters, including a 21-12 edge at the 3:18 mark of the second after Sells splashed the team’s other three besides Hayes’ four.
Hayes, as part of a 12-0 Vikings’ run in the second quarter, hit her first three to give the Lady Vikings the lead at 14-12.
With Clay trailing 21-12, Loper and Munion made their first threes to make it 23-20, which was only a precursor to Clay’s comeback — and cardiac — kids’ mentality on Monday.
The Lady Panthers and Vikings had split their season series, winning on the other’s home floor.
“I can’t say enough about the girls,” said Artis. “I know we are short a few with injuries and a couple of them are sick, but we battled the whole time with a seven-man rotation tonight. They fought hard and they were exhausted at the end, but the ball bounced our way a couple of times and it worked out for us. Found a way to win and move on to the next one.”
That next one being Division IV dominant Notre Dame — a two-time defending district champion.
Indeed, the Lady Panthers play the role of overwhelming underdogs on Thursday, but Artis said “it’s all about who wants to accept the challenge”.
“We know Notre Dame is going to be a challenge, but I sell to the girls that we have a chance in any game,” he said. “We just have to take care of the ball, rebound the ball well, shoot the ball well and we’ll see what happens.”
* * *
Portsmouth Clay 10 10 16 19 — 55
Symmes Valley 7 18 17 10— 52
CLAY 55 (7-15)
Jaelyn Warnock 5 3-4 14, Shaley Munion 7 2-5 19, Megan Bazler 3 0-1 6, McKenzie Loper 4 0-0 10, Tabbie Whitt 0 0-0 0, Kat Cochran 1 0-0 2, Kelsie Fowler 1 2-2 4; TOTALS 21 7-12 55; Three-point goals: 6 (Shaley Munion 3, Mekenzie Loper 2, Jaelyn Warnock 1)
SYMMES VALLEY 52 (5-17)
Jenna Malone 4 3-3 11, Payton Hunter 0 0-0 0, Taylor Sells 2 1-2 6, Rachael Hayes 9 0-0 22, Kylee Thompson 1 0-0 2, Hailee Littlejohn 2 3-4 7, Spring Ross 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 20 7-11 52; Three-point goals: 5 (Rachael Hayes 4, Taylor Sells 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved