Washington has found ways to win its most crucial girls basketball games this season.
The Lady Jays won the GAC Central championship with a 7-1 record and now are a win away from adding a district title to their resume.
Playing in the semifinals of the Class 5 District 10 Tournament Monday at Rolla High School, third-seeded Washington rallied from a 15-point deficit midway through the third quarter to stun second-seeded Rolla, 55-53.
“The atmosphere was a typical playoff basketball game atmosphere,” said Washington Head Coach Adam Fischer. “It was a great team win, but we can’t be satisfied just yet. We have more to accomplish.”
With the game tied 53-53, Washington had possession of the ball and called a timeout with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Jays got the ball to senior forward Kirstie Leslie in the lane a step in front of the free-throw line, who drive to her left and scored on a layup to make the score 55-53 with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Rolla quickly called a timeout, but couldn’t get the ball down the court in the final two seconds.
Leslie said getting the ball to her on the final play wasn’t exactly how it was scripted during the timeout.
“That wasn’t the plan at all, but our team worked really well and it just happened that way, so it was good,” Leslie said.
So what was going through Leslie’s mind when she got the ball with time running out?
“I was really nervous. I’m always nervous. I hate doing the ending things, the last plays. I hate those. But it was good,” Leslie said. “I knew I had to do something to get a point. I’m really glad I made it so we can move on. Our team is really excited.”
Fischer said the Lady Jays did a good job executing the game-winning basket.
“During the last timeout, we drew up a play to get a ball screen up high and attack the middle of the floor. Rolla played good defense on the play and made us force the ball to the corner, where they were able to close out on Paige (Carpenter),” Fischer said. “Kirstie made the correct cut to the open spot on the floor, and Paige made a great pass to find her there. Neither one of them panicked, allowing Kirstie to take her defender off the dribble and get the layup. She went up strong and put the ball in the hole.”
Washington (15-11) advances to play top-seeded Waynesvsille (12-13) in the championship game Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Lady Tigers hammered fifth-seeded Lebanon in Monday’s other semifinal game, 62-33.
“Playing for a district championship will be an exciting evening for us,” Fischer said. “The key for us is to get off to a good start on the defensive end of the floor. When the regular season ended, all we have talked about is taking it one game at a time.”
Fischer said Waynesville will present a big challenge.
“Waynesville is a very tall, athletic basketball team. They use their length really well and play a solid defensive ball game. They have played some great basketball teams in their conference all year, so they should be battle-tested and ready to go on Thursday,” Fischer said. “We will have our hands full with Waynesville because they are a well-coached basketball team that plays hard every night. If we can do all the small things that win games this time of year, we will give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Lady Jays will be confident going into the game.
“We’re excited to play Waynesville. We watched them and we think we have a really good chance,” Leslie said. “This is the first district game we’ve won in my four years here, so we’re really excited.”
The winner advances to the Class 5 sectional round Wednesday, March 6, at Camdenton High School.
Courtney Kedroski led Washington against Rolla with 16 points, despite being in foul trouble.
Paige Carpenter finished the game with 12 points.
Megan Bauche, Kaitlin Evans and Leslie each added seven points.
Helena Ballmann and Rachel Kackley both had two points.
Rolla (10-14) held the lead for a majority of the game.
The Lady Bulldogs led 18-13 after one quarter, but Washington cut the lead to 22-21 with three minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Rolla ended the first half on a 13-2 run to increase its advantage to 35-23 at halftime.
Playing a big role in Rolla’s first-half success was 5-9 senior forward Andrea Zalis, who had success scoring in the post.
“Rolla’s gym can get very loud, and I think we struggled at the beginning of the game communicating on defense. We fell behind early and went into the locker room down 12 at half,” Fischer said. “We were not doing a good job stopping No. 25 (Zalis) on defense and she was working hard to get her shots. At the half, all we talked about was picking up the intensity and attacking their defense by putting pressure back on them.”
The Lady Jays were down, but not out.
“Halftime wasn’t real happy. We were kind of sad,” Leslie said. “We’re really good at coming back. In more of our games we’ve had to come back rather than hold the lead, so we’re really good at that.”
Rolla pushed its lead to 44-29 with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
The final 12 minutes of the game belonged to Washington.
“Our defense was definitely the difference,” Leslie said. “We held (Zalis) down a lot better after halftime. That’s definitely what changed it.”
While taking their defensive pressure up a few notches, the Lady Jays also got the offense going to trim the deficit.
A pair of three-pointers by Carpenter and a bucket by Bauche pulled Washington to within 46-42 after three quarters.
Carpenter scored again 31 seconds into the fourth quarter to make the score 46-44, continuing a 15-2 run.
The Lady Jays finally tied the game 51-51 on a basket by Carpenter with 2:45 left to play, which completed a 22-7 run.
Rolla regained the lead 53-51 with 1:52 remaining, but free throws by Kedroski tied the game 53-53 with 1:19 remaining.
“Our guards handled the ball well, and our forwards rebounded extremely well,” Fischer said. “Courtney did a great job getting to the free-throw line in transition by attacking the basket and putting pressure on them. We spread the floor in the second half and let our guards and forwards work more of a one-on-one game. We made great decisions and got the ball where we needed it to go.”