By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The seconds counting down at the end of a tie game, Ysabella Fontleroy stood on the half court logo dribbling the basketball.
With eight seconds on the clock, Fontleroy made her move and passed to a teammate in the corner for a three pointer. The shot missed, but Fontleroy grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
That sent the Kickapoo freshman to the free throw line with one-and-a-half seconds remaining and two chances to win it. Her first shot missed off the back of the rim, but she swished the second and Kickapoo beat Thayer 55-54 on Thursday in the Pink & White Lady Classic quarterfinals at Drury University.
The fifth-seeded Chiefs now get to face top-seeded Strafford in the Pink Division semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the O’Reilly Family Events Center.
“Bella stepped up and for a freshman she hit a big shot there,” said Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass. “She made a lot of great plays during the game. She made a free throw when her team needed it most.”
The win came against a feisty Thayer team that upset fourth seed Jonesboro 59-56 on Wednesday.
The Lady Cats fell behind by 10 points in the second quarter, and still trailed 41-31 late in the third quarter after the teams traded points for a dozen-straight possessions.
Thayer senior Julie Stone’s basket with 2:27 left in the third made it a 41-33 game, and that was the start of the Cats’ late run.
Kickapoo committed three-straight turnovers, allowing Thayer to cut it to 41-37 after senior Angela Sorrell scored and junior Jurnee Rolen made two free throws.
After a Kickapoo miss, Stone scored on a pull-up jumper to cut it to two points. Fontleroy answered with a turnaround jumper, and then Stone answered right back with another pull up to make it 43-41 going into the fourth quarter.
The drama was a sign of things to come.
“We got a little more aggressive,” Thayer coach Cecil Meyer said. “They were giving us the same stuff in the first half, we were just a little bit tentative because of their size and length. In the second half we just played.”
“Twenty-two and fifteen made shots,” Pendergrass said. “They made a lot of tough shots.”
Sorrell’s offensive rebound and free throw made it a one-point game early in the fourth, and then after Thayer sophomore Maddy Kerley intercepted an inbounds pass, Sorrell scored to put the Lady Cats ahead 44-43 with six minutes left in the game.
Kickapoo, meanwhile, was in the middle of a horrid offensive stretch in which the Chiefs scored on just one of 10 possessions. Thayer’s Kerley made a free throw at the 4:33 mark to give her team a two-point lead, but Kickapoo sophomore Indya Green answered 10 seconds later to tie the game.
Sorrell’s turnaround made it 47-45. Kickapoo sophomore Rachel Senn tied it up. Kickapoo sophomore Chloe Merced scored and made a free throw to give the Chiefs a 50-47 lead. Thayer’s Stone then scored five straight to make it 52-50 Cats.
Merced tied it up for Kickapooo. Rolen scored for Thayer. Green tied it up for Kickapoo.
The break finally came on a Thayer turnover in the final minute to give the Chiefs possession.
“We had a crucial turnover there,” Meyer said. “I was proud of my kids. We got down 10 coming out and we made a lot of plays. They were all big but they made one late that we didn’t make.”
“We beat a good team tonight,” Pendergrass said. “They’re a really good basketball club. They had two kids really step up. I was really proud of our kids, how we hung in there. We’ve got a youthful team and we found a way to win a close game. We had a lot of different kids step up tonight, a lot of different possessions. I was really proud of our kids.”
Fontleroy led the Chiefs with 16 points and Green added 12.
Thayer got 20 points from Stone, including 15 in the second half. Sorrell finished with 19 and scored 10 in the third quarter.
Kickapoo improved to 6-4 with the win. Thayer fell to 7-2. The Lady Cats will face eighth seed Parkview at 2 p.m. Friday in Weiser Gym.