As it turned out, the third time was the charm for the Sullivan Lady Eagles.
Playing against Pacific for the third time this season, second-seeded Sullivan finally broke through with a win over the top-seeded Lady Indians 37-35 in the championship game of the Class 4 District 9 Girls Basketball Tournament Saturday at Pacific High School.
The championship game was a defensive struggle as both teams had a difficult time scoring points.
“Statistic wise, it was awful. There’s no other way to put it. We found a way to get it done,” said Sullivan Head Coach Jason Merkel. “It was a grind. A part of that is both teams know each other’s personnel so well, especially having already played each other twice. Luckily for us, we got it figured out in the right game.”
Sullivan (23-4) advances to play Bolivar (19-7) in the Class 4 sectional round Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. Missouri S&T in Rolla.
The shot of the game came from Sullivan junior Sierra Pryor.
With Pacific holding a 35-33 lead, Pryor drilled a 22-foot three-pointer from the right elbow with 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Lady Eagles the lead for good, 36-35.
“To win the game like that was awesome,” Pryor said. “I didn’t realize I was that far back until some of my teammates told me.”
The Lady Indians (21-6) had the play defended, but Pryor made the long three-point shot.
“I was happy that was the shot they decided to take. It just went in,” said Pacific Head Coach Josh Spuhl. “She’s a great player. I knew eventually she would do something to affect the game. She was in foul trouble. We played her well when she was in the game.”
Pryor was one of a number of key players from both teams in foul trouble during the game.
“That was a huge shot. I told Sierra when she was sitting on the bench in foul trouble that late in the game, you’re probably going to be in there to make a play. And that’s what she did,” Merkel said. “We’re better off just letting our kids play. Those kids make us coaches look good.”
Pacific had the ball in a timeout with 6.6 seconds left. The Lady Indians got a good shot, but it was partially blocked.
Sullivan’s Aley Lucas grabbed the rebound, got fouled and made one of two free throws with 1.4 seconds left.
“We drew something up. Lizzy (Almo) was open. She had a good look at a baseline 10-footer. The call didn’t go our way,” Spuhl said.
“With just a few seconds left, we definitely didn’t want to foul them,” Pryor said.
“We knew that Lizzy or (Ashley) Hill probably would try to take us off the dribble and go,” Merkel added. “That’s what we were thinking, which turned out to be true.”
It’s actually the second time this season that Sullivan won a tournament on a last-second three-pointer by Pryor. She pulled the same trick to beat Helias in the championship game of the Union Tournament.
“That one against Helias was a scripted play, so we knew exactly where she was going to be at that time,” Merkel said. “She did this one on her own.”
The game-winning basket was the only points of the game for Pryor, who finished with three points.
Taylor Lucas led the Lady Eagles with 11 points. Megan Brandt added 10 points.
Demi Reed collected six points. Jessica Heinle and Kaitlynn Hill both scored three points. Aley Lucas had one point.
“We played hard and finally pulled through,” Pryor said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times. We knew that. We’re like, we’re not going to back down from you.”
Lizzy Almo and Kya Hill both scored eight points for Pacific. Hill was in foul trouble for much of the game.
Ashley Hill and Ellen Rogers both finished the game with seven points.
Meagan Wakefield scored five points.
“We knew it was going to be close and physical. That’s the way they play,” Merkel said. “We just find ways to win. We may not have the best basketball kids. We have some good athletes.”
Pacific was 13-27 from the free-throw line, including 5-12 in the fourth quarter. Sullivan was 5-21.
“Free throws were the difference. We had a lot of free throws that we missed,” Spuhl said. “I thought our defense was fantastic. I thought everybody on our team played as hard as they could. Sullivan didn’t play the best they can, either. I wish them all the luck.”
Trailing 9-7 after one quarter and 11-7 two minutes into the second quarter, Sullivan went on a 9-0 run, which turned out to make a big difference in the defensive-minded game.
The Lady Eagles grabbed a 16-11 advantage with 3:50 left in the second period.
But Pacific came back with five straight points to tie the game, 16-16.
Sullivan’s Brandt scored at the buzzer to give the Lady Eagles an 18-17 halftime lead.
The entire second half was back and forth. Neither team held more than a four-point advantage.
Sullivan led 25-24 after three quarters and 29-25 just 41 seconds into the fourth period.
The game was tied 33-33 with exactly one minute left to play.
A basket by Almo with 42 seconds left gave Pacific a 35-33 advantage, which set up Pryor’s game-winning basket in the final seconds.
“Defensively, we played on point. We did the things we talked about. We tried to control their inside game better than the two times we played them before,” Spuhl said. “Offensively, we struggled. At the times we needed to, we got the buckets to stay in the game. A two-point lead with 10 seconds left, I felt pretty good.”
Spuhl said the Lady Indians had another good season.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room. Not the mistakes, but how well we did this year. Getting to 21 wins is fantastic. We won a couple of tournaments. We beat some teams that we’ve never beaten before. It was definitely a good year for us,” Spuhl said. “A lot of players stepped up this year. We definitely showed we can be competitive again next year. We have everybody back but two seniors.”