Brainerd's girls snatched away victory Friday.
More precisely, the Lady Panthers' Jumeka Brown snatched the ball away from Hixson in the final half minute of their District 6-AA high school basketball game at Brainerd. Afterward, teammate Ebony Calloway snatched a rebound in the lane.
The baskets that ensued after those plays enabled Brainerd to defeat the Lady Wildcats 41-39.
Coming into the game the teams were tied for second in the district standings behind Central (10-1 6-AA), which has a game left Tuesday against Tyner but has clinched the top seeding for next week's district tournament. Byes go to the top two teams, and Brainerd (15-7, 9-2) can secure the No. 2 slot by beating Tyner today at 5:30 p.m.
"We're extremely happy about that," Brainerd coach Tyrus Ward said of his team's position. "A first-round bye is what we wanted, but we've still got to go out and play like everybody else. We're anticipating a great tournament. It's something we've been talking about since last May."
His Lady Panthers led most of the first half, but never by more than seven points. Four of the game's six ties and six of the seven lead changes took place in the second half.
Hixson (15-8, 8-3) came out of a timeout with 29.1 seconds to play with a two-point lead and the ball. But Brown swiped the ball away, took it in for the tying layup and was fouled. She missed the free throw with 21.1 seconds to go, but Calloway slipped into the lane and scored the tiebreaker on a follow shot.
"We did what we wanted to do, running the inbound play," Hixson coach Matthew Smith said of coming out of the timeout with the ball at midcourt. "But you can't put the ball on the floor against a team like that without knowing where they are defensively. Then we missed a box-out down here. Three mental errors in 30 seconds, and they capitalized on all of them."
Said Ward: "We got that big steal at the end. That was awesome. I told them during that timeout we needed to go for a steal, and she timed it just right. It was just a great defensive play by probably our best defensive player. Those two big plays back to back pretty much sealed the deal."
Brainerd made a defensive stop but still had work to do late in the game. However, the fouls the Lady Wildcats comitted with 2.6 and 1.2 seconds left were their fifth and sixth team fouls of the half, so they were unable to force the Lady Panthers to go to the free-throw line and never had the chance at a last-second shot.
Jamee Ward led Brainerd with 16 points, including two 3-point goals. Neisha Price's points came on three 3-point goals.
Hixson's Virginia Rivers went scoreless in the first quarter but scored 11 points. T.T. Staten matched that despite being saddled with foul trouble for the Lady Wildcats, who with a game left Tuesday against Howard have the inside track to being third-seeded in the tournament.
"We'll probably have to play Brainerd again and go through them to get to the district championship," Smith said.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.