The first 80 points were ugly. The last 1, sweet.
Saturday’s third-place contest between the Marion Lady Warriors and the Rural Vista Heat had two ties: one at 0-0, the other — with under a minute left — at 40-40.
For the 80 points between, physical play forced tensions high, poorly regarded officiating pushed them higher, and frustration from the struggle of the sport brought the atmosphere to a fever pitch as the game reached its climax.
That climax was a solitary free throw from Kourtney Hansen, who was fouled with 5 seconds remaining after a dominant fourth quarter left Rural Vista no doubt as to whether the all-tournament freshman would receive Marion’s final shot. She drove, was tripped, missed the first, made the second, and one errant halfcourt heave later, the Warriors bench erupted with cheer.
It seemed to be the first time all game that cheering was appropriate.
Head coach Kelly Robson afterward was more proud of his team than fond of the game it had just played.
“I keep a list of basketball games, great ones, great finishes, bad finishes, whatever,” Robson said. “That was a miserable hour and a half. I didn’t enjoy that. But, I’m really proud of them. They battled back.”
Robson’s voice was hoarse after a contest in which he said he had to provide energy when his team started slow. He was animated on the sidelines, getting players to remember the game plan — leave the outside shooters open, deny entry passes to the paint at all costs.
After allowing the first several points of the game, a Marion bucket at the close of the first quarter pulled it to 8-17.
A spurt to begin the second quarter, in which Marion scored, stole the ensuing inbounds pass and quickly put in another layup, brought the game to within 5. From there, Marion would spend the rest of the night dealing with that 5-point deficit, cutting it to 3, seeing it balloon to 7 or 8.
“We’re gonna compete to the end, I always know my girls are gonna play hard,” Robson said. “But at critical points, can we do the things that we need to?”
After struggling to get a consistent offense all game, Hansen emerged. With continuous baseline drives from the corner, she scored Marion’s first 8 points of the fourth quarter as part of a 24-point night on 11-of-13 shooting.
With about 2 minutes left, and Marion trailing 34-38, Bailey Robson hit a 3-pointer from the wing to pull Marion within 1.
After that, junior Kirsten Hansen was called for a touch foul, her fifth, and she exited the game. Her sister drove base line again to pull the Warriors back to within 1, and with less than a minute remaining, Kristen Herzet made one of two foul shots to tie the game at 40.
Rural Vista seemed to have a chance at the final possession, but Marion’s full-court pressure, which had frustrated the Heat all game, forced an overthrow on a pass, giving the Warriors the possession that would win them the game.
After the freshman Hansen tallied her final point of the night to give Marion its first advantage with 5.1 seconds left, a deflated Rural Vista team could only throw up a halfcourt prayer, which went unanswered.
“When she tried to shoot that halfcourt shot, and it wasn’t very close, that was fantastic,” Coach Robson said. “That was the feeling I had right there. It was just fantastic.”