By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Springfield, Mo. — Thayer’s Class 2 semifinal wasn’t a thing of beauty, but head coach Cecil Meyer certainly didn’t mind.
The Lady Bobcats (29-3) rallied late in the fourth quarter to down Clopton 48-43 and advance to Saturday’s championship game against Mid-Buchanan.
“It doesn’t have to be pretty this time of year,” Meyer said. “Survive and advance is the name of the game right now, I guess, and they figured out a way to do that.”
Julie Stone led Thayer with a game-high 19 points; however, it was teammate Angela Sorrell’s late defensive effort that finally secured the victory.
On a night where Clopton made a living off interior scoring, the 5-foot-9 senior came up with two crucial steals during the final 30 seconds of play.
After drawing an immediate foul on her second steal, Sorrell took her time walking the length of the court to shoot the one-and-one free throws.
“I was very nervous,” Sorrell said. “But I just knew that we practice free throws every day in practice, and I knew I can make them. I told myself as I walked up the line that I was making these.”
With three seconds remaining, Sorrell did just that. Her two free throws stretched the Thayer lead to five and closed out the game.
Prior to Sorrell’s game-saving defense, Thayer had all sorts of problems slowing the Clopton front line, particularly sophomore Caragan Lockard.
The 5-foot-8 forward finished with a team-high 17 points, many of which came after extra passes in the lane.
Meyer discussed halftime adjustments designed to limit the extra passes and, in turn, Lockard’s touches.
“We just needed to stay with [Lockard] just a little bit longer,” Meyer said. “We were releasing her just a little early. Later on in the fourth quarter, we did that and kind of kept it out of our hands a little better.”
After Kaitlyn Kuntz opened up the fourth quarter with a traditional 3-point play to stretch Clopton’s lead to six, the Thayer rally began.
Back-to-back baskets from Shelby Coursey and Stone cut the deficit to two at 41-39.
Moments later, Madison Kerley’s 3-pointer gave Thayer its first lead since midway through the first half.
Lockard answered at the 3:44 mark to recapture the lead for Clopton; however, it would be her final basket of the game.
On the next possession, Stone’s driving curl into the lane put the Lady Bobcats up for good and set the stage for Sorrell’s heroics.
After the game, the senior was asked about what the win means for a Thayer community and the program. The Lady Bobcats lone final four appearance in 2010 ended without a title.
“It means everything,” Sorrell said. “We haven’t had a first place win in basketball history, and this is our last year — we’re just wanting to come out with the win for it.”
A Saturday win — in whatever way, shape or form it materializes — is just fine with Meyer.
“We’ll take an ugly win tomorrow over a pretty loss,” Meyer said. “I’ll guarantee you.”
Class 2 Semifinal: Thayer – 48, Clopton – 43
Clopton 08 15 13 07 — 43
Thayer 10 14 09 15 — 48
Clopton scoring: Caragan Lockard – 17, Kaitlyn Kuntz – 9, Jillian Lockard – 6, Calynn Lockard – 6, Taylor Akers – 5
Thayer scoring: Julie Stone – 19, Angela Sorrell – 10, Madyson Kerley – 8, Shelby Coursey – 6, Jurnee Rolen – 5