Coming into the fourth quarter of Monday's District 6-A girls' high school basketball championship game, Sale Creek had a 7-2 edge in 3-point goals and a one-point lead over Van Buren County.
But when it counted down the stretch, it was the Eaglettes who started bombing away. With four of its five baskets in the fourth quarter coming from 3-point distance, Van Buren managed to come away with a 51-48 victory at Sale Creek.
Whitwell cruised past Richard Hardy 68-25 in the consolation game.
Van Buren (20-9) will host Boyd-Buchanan and Sale Creek (21-5) will host Arts & Sciences when the Region 3 tournament gets under way Friday. Whitwell (23-8) will play at Grace Academy and Richard Hardy will travel to District 5 champion Silverdale Baptist Academy.
The Eaglettes' first points of the fourth quarter also came on a perimeter shot, but from slightly inside the 3-point line by freshman Lakelyn Bouldin. Then after back-to-back 20-footers by Tiffany Grissom, who totaled 10 points, and one by Bouldin, Shelene Hitchcock connected from the deep left corner with 3:13 remaining and gave the Spencer team a 48-42 lead.
The Lady Panthers were within two when they forced an over-and-back violation with 34.5 seconds to play. Alexis Wolff, whose 12 points had all come on 3-pointers, missed from behind the arc with about 20 seconds remaining and Van Buren's Lacy Hankins was fouled in the scramble for the rebound.
"We hoped to get it down inside and go up with it and get a quick two," Sale Creek coach Debbie Hill said. "But at that point I think their pressure kind of knocked us off our heels a little bit."
After Hankins made the front end of a one-and-bonus situation and missed the second, Sale Creek's last good chance at tying the score went awry when Erin Hill's 3-point shot from the top of the key fell short and went out of bounds with 2.7 seconds to go.
"Erin had that last shot," Hill said of her daughter, who made three 3s and finished with 12 points, "but they were up in her face."
Before Monday, the Lady Panthers' last loss was to Van Buren on Jan. 5. But they beat the Eaglettes during the 17-game winning streak that just came to an end.
"I knew coming in this game was going to be back-and-forth, back-and-forth," Van Buren coach Amy Russell said. "My goal tonight was to win every quarter. I told them at the end of every quarter when they came in, 'It's 0-0.'
"We knew they were a hot team, and we were coming into their gym. I felt like that meant we were 10 points down automatically. That scared me."
Jordan Hixson also had a three-point goal for the Lady Panthers, giving them eight. But Coach Hill would've preferred a different style of game.
"It really wasn't what we wanted," the coach said. "We've got strength inside, but they really packed it in defensively. We were fortunate enough to hit a few 3s, just not enough."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.