Twin Bridges took the punch, took two, took a third, and never hit the deck.
Once they shook off the frenzied challenge of a physical and unafraid Harrison/Willow Creek Wildcats team, they stood tall and through the haymaker that counted.
Down by as much as 18 points in the fourth quarter, the Falcons rallied behind a desperate defense and the clutch play of a number of Falcons as the top seeds held on for a memorable 48-47 District 11-12 C championship game win at the Maroon Activities Center on Saturday night.
Now Twin Bridges (18-2) advance to the Western W Divisional tournament in Hamilton next week and open up play on Wednesday at 5 p.m. against the second place team from District 14.
Harrison/Willow Creek (16-5) will open Thursday at 6:45 p.m. against the second place team from District 13.
Make no mistake, the Wildcats came out played like a champion they easily could have been and possibly should have been.
They took the fight to the Falcons as this group of girls should be expected to do.
Warriors dressed as Wildcats on a night they fell so short from total victory.
“To me it was we were so frustrated and lost our confidence in that first half,” Twin Bridges head coach Rob Lott said about the huge deficit his team faced early. “But there was no sense of doom at halftime since we saw how Shields Valley came back on them the night before. We had a sense of urgency that we can’t get outworked.
“Then we come back, rally and relax,” Lott added. “Then Harrison comes back, executes and plays the way you should play. You have to give those girls credit. They did what I expected and I told our girls they would bring it at us and we would have to respond. They were not going to let us come back it just came down to it being a team win. We pressed and got back into it, and neither team ever quit. We were fortunate enough to beat them.”
Showing a comportment that told everyone at the MAC they more than deserved to contest the title, the Wildcats came out as strong as they did in the previous night’s semifinals while Twin Bridges started off just as slow as 24 hours before.
When Britt Cooper scored on a wide-open bunny, the wily Wildcats had an 8-0 lead.
Their advantage grew to 10-0 before a Julia Cox free throw stopped the bleeding with 3:15 to go in the opening quarter.
Admittedly, the semifinal win against Shields Valley the night before was anything but a lovely affair after their strong first quarter, but the Wildcats allowed nothing from residual to creep into their game early on against the Falcons.
Alecia Panagakis hit a steely jumper just inside the arc and suddenly the Wildcats were up 15-1 and would hold that edge after eight minutes.
What differentiates Harrison/Willow Creek from most teams is their complete disregard for fear. That was evident as they played as hard nosed a chest-to-chest man that a team could play. Combine this talent with a maturity older teams tend to show, this combination can create a deadly basketball cocktail.
Using this formula, the Wildcats continued to take the game to Twin Bridges and bossed the action on both ends.
It didn’t help that a half-dozen shots by Twin Bridges would cruelly roll around and out of the rim.
The first half would conclude its frenzied pace with Harrison/Willow Creek making passing lanes wish they’d go into early retirement as their constant threat to Twin Bridges’ ball reversal or just the simple pass began to unnerve the Falcons.
After 16 minutes, the Wildcats would lead 24-7 while holding the top seeds without a made field goal and just seven free throws.
“They made it here and beat Shields Valley the night before and gave us a heck of a run,” Konen said. “They are a tough team that plays like us and they made a run for it. It doesn’t help that we didn’t make a field goal the whole first half. They took us out of our offense with good ball pressure and they wanted to run with us and we don’t have experience with that.”
The start of the second half saw Twin Bridges seem to escalate their confidence despite the Wildcats still attacking everything with vigor.
Finally a Julia Cox layup at 4:47 of the third quarter broke their game-long drought from the field and the Falcons were down 26-13.
Oh, how those Falcons know how to soar to the perfect spot to catch its prey.
Konen buried here eighth and ninth free throws, Paige Phillips made an acrobatic WNBA-style reverse layin, and Cox added a free toss and just like that, the Twin Bridges girls were down 26-18 with 3:40 to go.
Calling on Kristen Ashcraft, the Falcon would score off of another turnover and it was 26-20.
“We just started playing our game and picked up our defense,” Ashcraft said. “Finally we could make a shot. We finally got the lid off the bucket and made a shot or two and got our momentum. Playing tough D that is what we do and that got us going.”
Becca White would hit a clutch and needed two for the Wildcats, but Konen answered with two free throws to make it 28-22 at the 2:52 mark.
The 15-4 run was not a mark on Harrison/Willow Creek playing bad by any means. Instead, it was about a Twin Bridges team taking its game to another level.
Remember…this is Twin Bridges.
Yeah, well some may have needed to read the memo:
The Wildcats were still in control.
Panagakis scored on a tough, chin first three-point play to the rim and her girls were back up 33-22.
Then the sophomore lined up and drilled three free throws in a row and just like that, the lead was back to where it all started before the Falcons’ delivered their first true hit of the game.
The Wildcats would end the quarter on a champion-making 12-0 run to end the quarter in better shape than it started.
How about that?
“You look up, we’re down 18 and a lot of teams would just give up but there is something special about our team,” Konen said. “We are the Twin Bridges Falcons and if we dug deep we would get it done. We knew what we had to do.”
The Falcons also knew they had one more run left.
“In your head I am just thinking this for everyone in our town,” Ashcraft said. “We have a big target on our back and everyone wants to beat Twin Bridges. We were down 18 and we just had to have the confidence that we could come back and win.
They scored the fourth quarter’s first eight points, forced a fifth foul on Wildcat Becca White and their next run was under way.
Konen sank two free throws and then scored underneath to make it 41-34.
With 2:45 left the Wildcats held a 45-36 lead, but only moments later the Falcons attacked the rim and fouled out Harrison’s Britt Cooper, taking away her presence inside and her ability to make big plays.
Then the tough-as-nails Kristen Ashcraft brought her presence to the party hitting a jumper and a big three to make it 45-41 with 1:41 to go.
Paige Phillips then calmly bottomed two free throws to pull her Falcons within 45-43 just 10 seconds later.
Twin Bridges forced another turnover and then Ashcraft, arguably as nails as a player at any level gets, drilled a moneyball trifecta and for the first time all night the Falcons led, 46-45 with a minute to go.
Another Phillips free throw made it 47-45 and forced the Wildcats to answer.
A Nesbit shot from underneath tied things at 47-47 and the Wildcats would force Twin Bridges into a turnover to claim a shot for the crown, but they too would miscue.
The Falcons had destiny in their hands.
Twin Bridges worked the clock down and got the ball to Ashcraft who would be fouled and go to the line for two free throws with :05.8 left.
She splashed one home the second would come down to the Wildcats, but they didn’t have time to respond and the Falcons were champions of District 11-12 C again.
“I got up to the line is I thought all I need to do is hit one free throw,” Ashcraft said. “When I’m just playing I don’t think about my shot. Everybody is watching you on the free throw line and when its tied with five seconds left and you have to make one you have to believe you are going to make it and its going in.”
Konen finished with 20 points and Ashcraft 16 for Twin Bridges, while Jaci Nesbit scored 10 points and Becca White added 10 points to lead an admirable Wildcat team.
For those who were there they may never believe what they actually watched.
Believe it…two champions left the floor that night…
HARRISON/WC 15 9 16 7 - 47
TWIN BRIDGES 1 6 15 26 - 48
Jaci Nesbit 4 2-2 10, Kristen White 3 2-4 8, Britt Cooper 2 2-3 6, Becca White 4 1-2 9, Alecia Panagakis 2 5-6 9, Addie Nesbit 2 1-3 5, Tori Wilson 0 0-0 0, Taya DeFrance 0 0-0 0, Megan Skillman 0 0-0 0.
TOTALS: 17 13-20 47
Julia Cox 1 3-7 5, Hannah Konen 3 13-14 20, Morgan Martin 0 2-2 2, Paige Phillips 1 3-4 5, Madison Beagley 0 0-0 0, Kelsie Dustin 0 0-0 0, Kristen Ashcraft 6 1-2 16, Cassidy Wetzel 0 0-2 0, Abby Williams 0 0-0 0, Megan Martin 0 0-1 0, Alison Griebenow 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 11 22-32 48