Entering the fourth quarter, the Fayette girls basketball team found itself in a familiar situation against Harrisburg on Monday in the quarterfinals of the Class 2 District 7 tournament.
Fayette had already suffered defeats to the Lady Bulldogs by 38 and 33 points earlier this season, and with eight minutes to go, the Lady Falcons trailed by 31 points. That’s when Fayette made one last valiant stand of the 2013-14 season.
In a matter of five minutes, Fayette trimmed Harrisburg’s lead down to 17 points. Although Harrisburg would go on to stretch out the lead again and win 74-45, the fourth-quarter burst gave Fayette one of its highest point totals against Harrisburg in several years.
“I really thought we executed our offense better and got better shots,” Fayette head coach Mike James said. “We’re a streaky team and it was one of our longest sustained scoring runs we’ve had all year.”
Even though Harrisburg’s starting five was on the bench during Fayette’s 16-2 run to begin the fourth quarter, Fayette’s starting five played some of its best ball of the season. Natalie Kimball, who finished the evening with a game-high 19 points, was steady all game for Fayette.
Kimball capped the run with an old-fashioned 3-point play, then picked up a steal and went all the way in for a layup at the 3:09 mark, cutting Harrisburg’s lead to 60-43. Harrisburg head coach Dan Bachmeier called a timeout and inserted his starters back into the game for a few minutes, to prevent Fayette from coming within single digits of the lead.
Monday was Kimball’s second-highest point total of the season, just one point behind her season-high of 20 points in Fayette only win of the year, against Smithton.
“She was in the right mindset all night long,” James said. “She executed well and had a tough assignment, with the type of pressure Harrisburg will throw at you. She handled the ball well and got the ball to people in good spots.”
After a couple of free throws from Haleigh Strodtman to open the fourth quarter, Kenzie Smentkowski had a huge three at the 5:33 mark. While the 3-pointer helped trigger Fayette’s aggressive play, it was big in more ways than one.
Smentkowski had gone four consecutive games without a three, but the final 3-point attempt of her career swished through the net. James said she has made big shots throughout her career and he was happy to see his senior end her drought in her final game.
“She never quit playing hard,” James said. “She developed from a girl who, as a freshman, never really shot the ball much. By the time she was a junior and senior, she became a decent 3-point shooter.”
Fayette’s three seniors accounted for 12 of those first 16 points in the fourth quarter. Kyreon Lee, who had the other four points for the senior class, also scored in double figures with 10 points. It was only the fourth time this season she has scored 10 or more points in a game.
“What I liked about her tonight was that she was all over the place,” James said of Lee. “She was all over the floor, diving for loose balls. She was our verbal leader tonight, even when things were going bad.”
Harrisburg scored 14 of the game’s final 16 points, including seven in a row from Kirsten Southerland. Once Harrisburg (15-11) had rebuilt its lead to 22 points, James pulled his seniors for one last time with just over a minute to play.
Before Fayette’s last-chance comeback, the game belonged entirely to Harrisburg. The Bulldogs scored nine points less than two minutes into the game, making their first four shot attempts.
“I was worried about our confidence level, even though I knew we had beaten Fayette twice,” Bachmeier said. “But I was pretty happy with our play.”
Harrisburg’s fiery pressure flustered Fayette (1-23, 0-10 L&C) on several occasions in the first half. The Lady Bulldogs had the first 14 points of the game before Lee made a free throw at the 3:10 mark of the first quarter for Fayette’s first points.
Chloe Franklin helped snap Harrisburg’s five-game losing steak with an impressive first half. By the two-minute mark of the second quarter, the junior forward had nine points and 11 rebounds. She would finish with game-highs of 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“Chloe has had a bunch of decent games lately, some better than others” Bachmeier said. “She has been more consistent lately, but within the game, she can be inconsistent. On Wednesday, she’s got to battle consistently.”
Harrisburg had a 43-14 halftime lead and outscored Fayette 15-13 in the third quarter. Both teams had 29 points in the second half.
Smentkowski had five points for Fayette and Clara Beaman and Grace Boulden each had two points.
For Harrisburg, Bailey Ivicsics scored nine points, Macy Arp, Baylee Hudson and Karyssa Giboney had six points apiece and Hailey Lowrey finished with five points. Sara Colyer scored four points and Kyla Acton and Keeley Vanderfeltz each had two points.
Harrisburg, the No. 2 seed in the district tournament, faces No. 3 Sturgeon at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.