LADY WARRIORS TAKE TITLE
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With the game hanging in the balance, coach Kelly Eckenrod couldn’t have asked for anybody better than Shelby Miller to be stepping to the line. Miller clinched a championship for Centertown Friday night, burying a game-winning free throw with 3.8 seconds left as the Lady Warriors ended Morrison’s perfect season with a 29-28 victory at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Miller finished with just three points, but her free throw proved to be the difference as she sank the second of two free throws after being fouled in the final seconds. She barely missed the first try, but a quick pep talk with her coach – who knows a thing or two about winning championships – proved to be the difference.
“Absolute confidence,” said Eckenrod when asked about seeing Miller walking to the line. “She is the best free-throw shooter consistently I have, and we work on free throws day-in, day-out. I knew I needed to calm her down – I knew she had it, but she didn’t know she had it.
“When they called a timeout [after the first miss], I knew we had it. I looked at Shelby and said, ‘It was dead-on. You know how you missed it and you know how to make the correction. Go do it. We got this.’”
Miller did just what her coach asked. She went back to the line and drilled the second shot, giving Centertown just its second lead of the second half. The Lady Warriors still had to sweat out one final chance though.
After a timeout, Morrison got the ball to Jayla Garibaldi and she flew up court, getting to the 3-point line before launching. Her shot nearly banked in, but it glanced off the side at the last second as Centertown started its celebration.
Only after the game did Eckenrod find out just how amazing her defense had played. The Lady Warriors were the first team to bottle up Garibaldi this season, holding her to a season-low two points after she had 30 points in the two meetings this year.
“I thought we played contain defense – it wasn’t anything flashy. They just contained and shut down the lane,” said Eckenrod, who has led Centertown to multiple championships and was a state champion in her playing days with the Lady Pioneers. “Garibaldi is awesome. She can weave through everybody, but she couldn’t do that tonight. That’s nothing but team defense. I had no idea until I looked at the book that we contained her to two free throws.”
For three quarters, it didn’t matter. Morrison still had enough scoring to stay in the lead.
Chloe Wanamaker and Harmoni Kennerly fueled the Lady Eagles, getting out in the open to push their team into the lead. Wanamaker was unstoppable in the open court, while Kennerly forced her way to the rim as Morrison led 16-13 at halftime.
Out of the break, Centertown went to its bread and butter. Kealey Simpson, who was named the tournament MVP, set up shop in the lane and went to work, hitting back-to-back hook shots as the Lady Warriors captured the lead briefly.
Wanamaker didn’t waste time responding. She drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:01 left in the third, pushing Morrison back in front 21-17. She also had a snowbird late in the period, catching a long pass for Garibaldi for a layup - part of a game-high 14 points from Morrison’s tough-as-nails guard who was named all-tournament after the game.
Kristina Munzon helped Morrison build its lead to six, 26-20, right before the buzzer. She hit a layup off a good feed from Garibaldi to give her team some breathing room going into the final six minutes.
Centertown erased the deficit swiftly in the fourth. Simpson started the final period with an emphatic block, jumpstarting a fast break where Allie Melton outran the defense for a layup. Kendra Fann followed with a putback with 4:35 to go, making it 26-24.
Munzon answered with a layup as Morrison beat Centertown’s full-court pressure, but the Lady Eagles couldn’t keep the Lady Warriors off the glass. Simpson had a putback with 4:02 left that made it 28-26, then Fann – who had all four of her points in the fourth – tied the game with another putback with 3:09 left.
Both offenses went cold from there, missing multiple chances on each end to break the tie. Morrison had its best look with 1:14 left when Kennerly went to the line for two shots, but both missed the mark and Centertown controlled the ball.
Coach Eckenrod called timeout with the idea to get the ball to Simpson in the paint. They succeeded in feeding their talented center, but Morrison swarmed with three defenders and forced an errant pass. Simpson threw a pass over Miller’s head, giving the ball back to Morrison.
Garibaldi broke through a double team in the press in the final 30 seconds, ultimately finding Kennerly roaming free in the lane. She attacked the basket, but Simpson was able to change her shot at the rim and knock the rebound out to halfcourt. Centertown chased it down just in time to set up for a final shot.
Again, Simpson flashed to the high post and saw Miller streaking wide open on the back side and this time she didn’t miss. Before Miller could get off a potential game winning shot, she was hit hard and sent to the line. The rest was history for the Lady Warriors.
Simpson took home the MVP after the game, while Miller, Melton and Fann were each named all-tournament for helping the Lady Warriors. Garibaldi, Kennerly and Wanamaker were honored for Morrison, which won the preseason tournament and had won 14 straight games before falling the final seconds Friday.
Centertown scoring – Kealey Simpson 11, Allie Melton 9, Kendra Fann 4, Shelby Miller 3, Presley Bonner 2
Morrison scoring – Chloe Wanamaker 14, Harmoni Kennerly 7, Kristina Munzon 5, Jayla Garibaldi 2
Lady Bulldog scoring – Sarah Kate Winfree 22, Macie Bush 12, Kyaira Sharpe 6, Zoi Radny 4, Atlanta Fults 4
Lady Wildcat scoring – Maddox Adams 6, Abagayle Jones 5, Anslee Crick 5, Lillie Holman 4, Dayana Esparza 1
Sarah Kate Winfree, Zoi Radny and Macie Bush from Eastside and Dibrell’s Maddox Adams were named to the all-tournament team.