Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover
Grace Academy head coach Jon Mattheiss, right, reacts to a play during the team’s match against Temple.
The Grace Academy girls’ basketball players didn’t know it, but a win over Tennessee Temple at home Friday wasn’t all they needed.
The Lady Golden Eagles, who had lost a seven-point game to Temple earlier this season, had to beat the Lady Crusaders by at least eight to have the advantage if the District 5-A standings end in a tie.
And after freshman Winter Simpson made two free throws with 9.6 seconds to play, that’s exactly what Grace did. Their 52-44 victory puts them alone in first place with one district game remaining.
“We still have to travel to play Copper Basin, but it was big that we beat them by eight,” Grace coach Les Compton said. “The kids didn’t know it, but we coaches were going crazy at the end.”
Temple trailed by one at halftime and led by one heading into the fourth quarter, but the Lady Golden Eagles used their post presence to their advantage in the final period. After Janette Elliott’s shot put the Lady Crusaders up 39-36, Grace went inside to Simpson on three consecutive possessions, and each time she converted.
“We had to win this one, and I think we really showed our team unity tonight,” Grace senior Kaylan Dilts said. “Each player on the floor went out and did what they were supposed to do. Winter stepped up and hit those two free throws at the end. She didn’t even know it, but that helped us a lot. We’re all really proud of her.”
Dilts, who has struggled much of the season with a hip flexor injury, poured in 30 points to lead the Lady Golden Eagles (11-9, 8-1).
“We tried everything against her, and we were right there, but we just had no answer for her,” Temple coach Mark Alexander said. “She’s just a great player. We played hard and left it all on the floor. They were just the better team tonight.”
P.J. Sexton led Temple (15-11, 8-2) with 18 points including four 3-pointers, one of which cut Grace’s lead to four with 34.6 seconds to play. Simpson scored 12 for Grace.