The Crane Lady Pirates seemed to be well on their way to a comfortable Class 2 sectionals victory.
Then, Pierce City nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages.
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Crane led by 17 entering the fourth quarter, but Pierce City rallied to get within two points in the final minute. The Lady Eagles missed a potential game-tying shot near the basket in the final seconds as Crane escaped with a 57-55 victory at Republic High School on Wednesday night.
Crane plays Crocker in the quarterfinals at 2:45 p.m. Saturday at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center.
“Tense. Very tense,” Crane coach Jeremy Mullins said of the final minutes in the fourth quarter. “Pierce City is a good ballclub and we got complacent down the stretch and tense. We didn’t execute, we had some unforced turnovers. Things got tight there and it went south in a hurry for us.”
Crane made just one field goal in the fourth quarter. Krishna Merriman scored 15 of her game-high 24 in the fourth quarter to spark Pierce City’s rally. Crane helped out by committing turnover after turnover.
Following a Crane giveaway, Merriman’s layup drew Pierce City within 56-55 with less than 30 seconds remaining. Crane’s Riley Israel made one of two free throws with 6.5 seconds left to put Crane up 57-55.
Having to go the length of the court, Pierce City got an outlet pass up to Merriman near the basket. But Merriman’s contested shot wouldn’t fall, and a tie-up on the ensuing miss gave Pierce City the ball with .3 seconds left on the clock.
The Lady Eagles couldn’t get off a shot before time expired.
Mullins said there’s much his team can learn from the near loss.
“Especially at this point of the season, in a sectional game,” Mullins said. “I know it’s on the girls’ minds, it’s on everyone’s minds. You lose, you go home. It was a good learning experience for us, I think it’ll help us moving forward into the quarterfinals.”
Two free throws from Merriman cut Crane’s lead to 52-49 with about two minutes remaining. The Lady Pirates would then get four clutch free throws from sophomore reserve Loni Johnson to maintain a 56-51 advantage going into the final 1:20.
“Huge free throws,” Mullins said. “I was glad to see her step in there. She subs for our freshman post (Emma Lander) and she’s a sophomore post, so that’s a pretty big situation for her. She stepped up and knocked down four big free throws.”
Crane finished 23-for-29 at the free throw line; Pierece City was 17-for-21.
Pierce City 4 17 11 23 --- 55
Crane 9 21 19 8 --- 57
Pierce City – Krishna Merriman 24, Christine Younker 14, Emily Ashley 12, Bailey Hayward 3, Mattie Brottlund 2
Crane – Riley Israel 19, Emma Lander 11, Kylee Moore 7, Maggie McMenamy 6, Loni Johnson 6, Kylie Vaught 5, Addison Reel 2, Justine Mahan 1