By BRAD KEITH
(January 5, 2017) — On a night when Stephenville couldn’t hit a field goal early or a free throw late, team defense and the 3-point shooting of Hailey Martin kept the Honeybees alive until the combination of Jayci Morton, Payton Wall and Tesslie Baker won it in overtime.
Stephenville held on 37-35 to tie Heritage for second in District 8-4A Everyone is chasing district leader Glen Rose, and the Honeybees have now established themselves as the best-positioned team to deny the Lady Tigers an outright district title. Heritage and Glen Rose meet Tuesday for the first time while Stephenville faces Godley, who the Bees lost to in pre-district tournament action.
Midlothian Heritage made nine straight free throws, eight of those in the fourth quarter and overtime, while Stephenville made just 9 of 15 during the same stretch to keep Heritage alive.
After a miss then make on the final trip to the line by Stephenville made it 37-34. Heritage was given a bizarre opportunity to tie the game. Payton Wall played arms up defense for the Bees and Jasmine Bailey shot a 3 cleanly – it missed – and the arc of her arms carried her hands into Wall, standing in front of her, after the shot.
A foul was called on Wall and Bailey made the first free throw but missed the second. Heritage head coach and Stephenville alumnus Jason Hodges, who lost a second straight overtime nail-biter to fall to 0-4 against his alma mater, called a timeout to plan what was executed as a perfect intentional miss on the final three throw.
The result was a wide open put back attempt that was fired too hard off the glass. Heritage rebounded that, too, but Wall blocked the second put-back attempt at the buzzer, which was finally allowed to sound without whistles interjecting.
Wall was involved in three crucial defensive plays at the end of the fourth quarter and the end of overtime. She appeared to swipe a steal that would have all but done it late in the fourth, but was whistled for a foul that allowed Heritage to tie it up with two free throws and only four seconds left.
Stephenville threw away a pass trying to set up a last-second shot, and they headed to overtime at 29-29.
It was tied again with 90 seconds left, but Wall took an assist from Jordan Carter and knocked down a short jumper to put Stephenville on top for good.
More strong defense then one of two free throws gave Stephenville is first 3-point lead of the night, but Heritage drew another foul and hit two more to trail 34-33 with 53 seconds left.
Morton finally hit both on a trip to the line with 38 seconds remaining. Wallace hit two free throws for Heritage, then Morton hit the first but missed the second, finishing the Honeybee scoring with a 37-34 advantage.
The first of three Bailey foul shots in the closing seconds ended the Heritage scoring.
“We’ve got to hit some of those free throws so those late calls don’t mean anything,” said Thorpe. “When you don’t take advantage of opportunities to win it yourself, a lot of times it comes back to bite you. It almost did tonight.”
Before the Bees could even think about winning the game, they had to get back into it.
Stephenville trailed 14-1 until well into the second quarter. The first Honeybee field goal did not come until Martin hit a 3 in the final minute of the half. Heritage, which to that point didn’t have a point in the second quarter, buried a 3 just six seconds later.
During the slow start, Thorpe called a timeout to check the pulse of his team.
“I told the kids, we’re not shooting well but we’re playing well,” Thorpe recalled after the game. “Hang with it and keep playing well. The shots will fall and we will win this game. The kids believed it.”
He said the Bees staying within strange of Heritage was the result of their defensive effort. A last-minute 3 was all the Heritage scoring in the second quarter, and the Lady Jaguars needed a late one to score seven in the third.
Heritage had just three field goals in the second half after Stephenville made just two in the first half.
“Defense, defense, defense,” he said. “We’re not a great shooting team, and we’ve had teams like this before so our kids understand what it takes to have a chance to still win those games. It takes a lot of effort, for one thing, and that’s something we always get from our kids.”
Martin, who led all scorers with 13, rained home four 3-pointers, two of them back -to-back to pull the bees within 27-26 in the middle of the third quarter.
Stephenville outscored Heritage 12-7 in the third quarter, closing its deficit to two points late in the period before the Jaguars made two free throws to lead 24-20 entering the fourth.
“We did not play poorly, we just shot it poorly. We’ve done that a few times this year,” said Thorpe. “But we shut them down for long periods, too, and that’s against a very good team.”