In future games this season, the GPS basketball team could find itself in a position similar to Friday afternoon in the Times Free Press Best of Preps semifinals - down double digits with less than a quarter to play. If that becomes the case, the Bruisers now know they can overcome a big deficit, like they did against Brainerd.
The Bruisers started the fourth quarter with a 15-3 run, erasing an 11-point deficit. They took a late lead, lost it, then hit four of six free throws in the final minute to defeat the Lady Panthers 51-47 and advance to tonight's final at 7 at Chattanooga State.
Akia Harris helped lead the fourth-quarter charge for GPS (12-1). She scored 11 points while adding eight assists and five steals. She sparked a 6-0 run in a 15-second span early in the fourth quarter, hitting a floater and making back-to-back steals that led to a layup and an assist to Sydney Shutters for another score, which gave the Bruisers their first lead since 3:53 in the first quarter.
"I'm so proud of our girls for fighting back. We started to believe we could do it," GPS coach Jennifer Williams said. "When we were down, we weren't chewing out as much as we were cheerleading. Tonight was a good confidence builder for us, because we felt defeated but found a way to win."
Brainerd's Jamee Ward was on fire in the first half, scoring 20 of her 25 points. She hit four 3-point baskets, helping the Lady Panthers take a 31-21 lead into the break. The margin grew to 13 on a pair of free throws by Jumeka Brown, and it seemed like Brainerd was in control after Kenisha Price outwrestled GPS's Katie Morgan for a loose ball and found Jakira Walker for a layup, making it 41-30 after three quarters.
Yet in the fourth quarter, the Panthers scored only six points and had just as many turnovers.
Shutters scored 17 points to lead the Bruisers, while Kara Ware had 14 points and eight rebounds. Brown finished with 12 points and six steals for the Panthers (7-4), while Ebony Calloway had 11 rebounds and Walker had nine.
"I told the girls to keep their heads up," Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward said. "I thought we progressed, learned and we're getting better and making strides. We believed we could win and gave relentless effort, but we were careless with the ball and our inexperience showed late in the game."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.