By Rick Dunaway
Special to The Globe
REPUBLIC, Mo. —
Crane coach Dale Lamberth used Eastern philosophy to describe Wednesday night's boys basketball sectional loss against Pierce City.
Pierce City avenged a 30-point regular-season loss when it most counted, defeating the Pirates 37-35.
“It's just karma,” Lamberth said. “That's the way basketball seems to be.”
The Eagles (19-10) took advantage of foul trouble encountered by Crane's two big men — Jordan Bowling and Jonah Walker — in a low-scoring thriller that came on the heels of Pierce City's first district championship ever.
Walker picked up his fourth foul with 4 minutes, 2 seconds remaining while the Pirates held a three-point lead. Despite a couple of minutes on the bench, he exited the game for good with his fifth foul at the 1:39 mark and the score tied at 35.
Bowling, who finished with 14 points, fared little better, playing nearly all of the fourth quarter with four fouls and leaving the game with 9 seconds left.
“Our big guys weren't able to play the way they were in districts, and that hurt us,” Lamberth said. “I probably didn't make enough adjustments, and that's my fault.”
Pierce City coach Matthew Street conceded that the presence of the two big men caused the Eagles concern.
“Their height definitely caused us some problems,” Street said, adding that first-half turnovers kept his team on its heals early.
“We had seven turnovers at halftime, and we knew we were not going to win the ball game that way,” Street said. “We knew we had to do a better job of ball protection in the second half and I think we did that in the second half.”
Crane carried a 24-20 lead into intermission, thanks to a 9-0 run that began at the 7-minute mark of the second quarter and lasted until Jake Sowell's fast-break layup prompted Street to call a timeout with 5:22 left in the half.
The Pirates mounted the lead despite 6-foot-4 Cody Fitchpatrick's game-leading 12 first-half points, even though he was going up against two beefier 6-4 counterparts in seniors Bowling and Walker.
Fitchpatrick led all scorers with 17 points, while guard Zach Hyde added 15.
The only other Pirate to score in the game was Cedric O'Hara with five points, including the two free throws that broke the 35-all tie and ultimately send the Eagles to Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Drury University in Springfield. The Eagles will meet the winner of Wednesday night's game between Iberia (25-3) and Dora (24-5).
Pierce City, co-champion of the Spring River Valley Conference with Diamond, has now won seven straight.
Crane Girls 57, Pierce City 55
A furious fourth-quarter comeback fell just two points short for Pierce City.
“We escaped,” Crane coach Jeremy Mullins said. “Our youth showed, and we got complacent.”
Pierce City followed Krishna Merriman to the huge comeback, which fell short on a missed shot in the paint just before time expired. The Eagles got another chance with a jump ball giving them possession, but with just three-tenths of a second remaining, Merriman could not get the potential winning shot away in time.
Crane led by as many as 17 points at 49-32 early in the fourth quarter before Merriman caught fire. She scored 15 of her game-leading total in the fourth quarter alone, and 20 of her 24 tallies after intermission.
Merriman was supported by Christine Younker's 14-point effort. Emily Ashley added 12.
Crane (27-3) was led by Chandra Israel's 19-point performance. Emma Lander added 13.
Pierce City, which ends its season at 22-8, had trouble with Crane's pressure defense.
“We knew they had a pretty good man-to-man pressure defense,” Pierce City coach Rob Guerin said. “We made quite a few turnovers. We didn't take care of the ball very well in the second and third quarters.”
Guerin said the Eagles climbed back into the game by making changes on defense.
“We started using different defenses and started rotating on them, Guerin said. “We knew it was pretty much a do-or-die situation.”
Merriman's layup with 20 seconds remaining put the Eagles within a point and prompted Mullins to call timeout. Crane took the ball out on the end line and successfully crossed the timeline, forcing Pierce City to foul with 6.5 seconds left. Israel hit the second of her two free throws to bring about the final score.
Crane advances to Saturday's 2:45 p.m. Game at Drury University in Springfield against the winner of Wednesday night's game between Crocker and Seymour.