Lady Eagles claim Ozark 7 championship
"It was one of those moments that sends goosebumps up and down your spine," said Brooke Swadley, still in awe of Audrey Patton's miraculous effort.
With the game for the Ozark 7 Conference girls basketball championship knotted in a 27-27 tie between Verona and Purdy, Patton snagged a defensive rebound with four seconds remaining in the first half. She dribbled past the free throw line, glanced at the clock as she neared half court and launched a high, arcing prayer that found glass and net at the south end of the Purdy gym as the buzzer sounded.
The Lady Eagles carried the lead and momentum into the intermission and then returned to earn the conference title with a 59-48 victory on Friday night.
No Lady Eagle appreciated the win more than Swadley. The 5'6" junior guard had a miserable night when Verona defeated her Purdy team 61-56 just 24 days earlier.
"It was a nightmare," Swadley concurred. "But I learned from that game, and as a team, we didn't hang our heads after that loss. We dedicated ourselves to work hard and do whatever it took to win a conference championship."
The Friday win exacted every bit of character the Lady Eagles could muster. After Swadley scored the game's first points with a left-handed layup, Verona rolled to a 13-6 lead on Beth Bigham's trey with 2:15 on the first-quarter clock. Purdy fought back tenaciously, and Swadley tied the game at 15-15 when she fell on a fast break and still managed to control the lead pass, dribble to her feet and score.
Even though Verona's Jessica Smith would hit the last basket of the period for a 17-15 Lady Wildcat lead, Purdy had seized the momentum.
Meanwhile, the biggest storyline of the opening act was a leg injury suffered by Verona's Tristan Carrasquillo. She collapsed in a heap after a collision at the 2:41 mark and had to be helped to the Verona locker room. Bigham's three fell immediately after Carrasquillo's departure, and then Purdy made the comeback run in her absence.
In the second quarter, Purdy flexed its inside muscle, gaining an advantage on the boards and muscling for points in the paint. Shelby White flashed for a steal at halfcourt and passed ahead to Addy Roller for the game's second tie at 19-19. Jenna Chadd regained the lead for Verona with a trey from the right wing, and the Lady Wildcats led 22-19 with 6:22 before halftime.
Purdy responded with an 8-0 run, and Brittany Mareth's baseline jumper set the score at 27-22 in favor of the home team. Jessica Smith poured in a trey and a driving layup for a 27-27 tie to set up Patton's historic heave.
"Speechless," is how Brooke Swadley described her reaction to the shot, and painted it as, "One of those shots that when it goes in, you know you're going to win the game."
It certainly boosted the Purdy morale, but the fragile momentum would be lost if the Lady Eagles didn't feed on the emotional lift coming out of halftime. Having accomplished the 10-point swing from down 7 to up 3, Grant Young put the ball in Shelby White's hands to start the third quarter.
White answered with four straight baskets and a pair of free throws in the opening 4:02 of the period to give the Lady Eagles a 40-36 lead. Then Patton scored on a "found it" layup in the lane and converted free throws to build the lead to 44-36. The 8-point margin was the biggest lead of the game for either team to that point.
Swadley and Chadd swapped baskets, and then Carrasquillo, putting her toughness on display after her early injury, canned a pull-up jumper to cut Purdy's led to 46-40 with just :34 left. White wormed inside the paint for another score, and Carrasquillo's threeball missed at the buzzer. Purdy reached the final break with a 48-40 lead.
Jessica Smith ripped a trey from the left corner to open the final period, and Verona trailed 48-43. White scored again for Purdy and Smith answered with free throws to keep the difference at 5, 50-45. It was as close as Verona would get to the lead.
Addy Roller drove all the way in from halfcourt when the Wildcats neglected the cardinal rule of defense. When no one stopped her dribble penetration, Roller continued on to the rim, and her layup gave Purdy a 52-45 lead. Swadley scored inside, and then Smith uncharacteristically missed the front end of a bonus chance for Verona.
Grant Young took a timeout for Purdy with 2:42 left to play, and the stall game was on. The Lady Eagles ran nearly a minute off the clock before Bigham fouled Swadley. Her single make from the line gave Purdy the first double-digit lead of the game, 55-45.
Chadd buried a trey for Verona, but Roller and White combined for four more successful free throws in the final 1:02 as the Purdy Lady Eagles won their first Ozark 7 title since 1993.
"We lost to a great team," said Verona's Ryan Yates after the final buzzer. "We will regroup and get ready to start districts next week."
The Lady Eagles fixed the most obvious flaws from their earlier loss to Verona. Gone were the painful turnovers against the Verona press, replaced with skill and poise as Swadley and Roller directed the Purdy offense. Patton and White provided more of a rebounding presence at both ends, and more physical play in the paint on offense.
While Verona stayed in the game with long-range shooting, Purdy sank only one shot from beyond the arc on Friday night: the Patton shot that left Swadley "speechless."
Purdy ends the regular season with a 21-4 record. The only blemish on their 11-1 conference record was the loss to Verona. The Lady Wildcats finish at 21-5 and 10-2 in the Ozark 7 conference.
Purdy scorers: Shelby White 19, Audrey Patton 14, Addy Roller 11, Brooke Swadley 11 and Brittany Mareth 4.
Verona scorers: Jessica Smith 17, Jenna Chadd 16, Tristan Carrasquillo 8, Taylor Pinkly 4 and Beth Bigham 3.