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By GOOSE LINDSAY
In what will go down as perhaps the greatest game ever played in Oliver Springs' Terry L. Hacker Gymnasium, the Oliver Springs Lady Bobcats secured a berth in the TSSAA Class A State Tournament Saturday night with a 51-49 victory over Cloudland in triple overtime.
“This game was unbelievable,” Lady 'Cat head coach Michelle Christopher said following the game. “I'm not sure if I've ever been in a game like this one before. I just think our kids worked hard and wouldn't quit. They deserved this win.”
Saturday's game was like a heavyweight fight in which both fighters refused to go down.
Cloudland was the first to fight back as the Lady Highlanders battled back from a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to force overtime when Shellie McKinney hit a free throw with 22 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 38.
In the first overtime, Oliver Springs was on the verge of defeat when Kayla Christopher showed why she's a Miss Basketball Finalist as the senior star buried a long three-pointer with three seconds left to send the game to a second overtime tied at 43.
Overtime No. 2 was just as dramatic as Christopher missed a 17-foot jumper with two seconds left that sent the game to a third overtime tied at 47.
The third overtime was a carbon copy of the first two as the ball was again in Christopher's hand as time was running down. This time, with the score tied at 49, Christopher beat a defender of the dribble, did a spin move into the lane and drained a 10-footer with 4.9 seconds left.
“Cloudland played great tonight and they probably defended Kayla better than anybody I've seen,” Christopher said. “But there was no doubt that we were still going to her in that situation. Her teammates have confidence in her and we know she's not going to miss too many of those.”
Cloudland would have one last chance at victory, but that all ended when Lady 'Lander Brooke Johnson tried to dribble through the Lady 'Cat duo of Chelsea Harper and Kelsey Hall near mid court. Harper would get a hand on the ball to force it free and Hall corralled the loose ball as bedlam broke loose in Oliver Springs.
“We went to a soft press there because we didn't want them to throw over us,” Christopher said. “It's the same thing we did against Wartburg in the region championship game at the end and the girls knew what to do.”
Three-point shooting was the name of the game in the first half as the Lady 'Cats dialed long distance six times in the first two periods to take a 22-13 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Christopher and Harper buried triples for Oliver Springs in the first period, but they were matched by Cloudland's Johnson and Brooke Hughes as the score was tied at 10 after eight minutes of play.
Oliver Springs won the second period by a 12-3 margin with all of the Lady 'Cats point coming from beyond the arc. Christopher knocked down two triples in the quarter while Hall and Kasi Bilyeu also scored from downtown to give the Lady 'Cats the nine-point halftime lead.
The third quarter opened with the teams trading baskets and all seeded good for the home team when Hall buried a three-pointer with three minutes to play to make the score 31-19.
Cloudland, however, showed why they had won 24 games entering Saturday's contest as they refused to throw in the towel. Johnson would score three times over the next 4:13 as the Lady 'Landers used an 11-0 run to pull with one point at 31-30 with 6:47 left to play.
From that point on the game was nothing but a dog fight as neither team led by more than three points in the final 19:17 of game time.
Oliver Springs was holding a 38-37 lead late in the contest, but that's when McKinney was fouled on an offensive rebound and she would make one of two to tie the game at 38.
The Lady 'Cats had a shot to win at the buzzer, but a lay-up from Hannah Raby rimmed out after a great inbound pass from Hall.
Oliver Springs took the lead in overtime when Mariah Ollis scored with 1:34 left, but Johnson buried a three-pointer 18 seconds later then Cloudland appeared to be in great shape when McKinney buried two free throws with 12.9 seconds left to make the score 43-40.
Oliver Springs, however, ran a designed play and got Christopher a shot from about 22 feet away and Christopher did what she has done so many times before when a game was on the line, she found nothing but net to send the game to a second overtime.
“I knew when Kayla hit that three that we were going to win the game,” coach Christopher said. “I saw defeat in some of our girls' eyes just before that, but once that shot went in everything changed and I could tell these girls weren't about to lose.”
The second overtime was just as tense.
Johnson hit a pair of free throws to give Cloudland a 45-43 lead with 2:53 left, but the Lady 'Cats answered with back-to-back baskets from Ollis and Christopher to regain the lead at 47-45 with 1:48 left. Cloudland tied it again when Sydnie Buchanan scored with 1:06 left to play.
Oliver Springs elected to run down the clock and again put the ball in Christopher's hands, but this time the last second shot did not fall as her 17-footer was just a bit long.
Overtime No. 3 opened with Johnson scoring for Cloudland with 2:59 left and Hall scoring for Oliver Springs scoring for the Lady 'Cats with 2:31 left, but this time it would be the Lady 'Landers pulling the ball out and electing to go for one shot at the end.
Oliver Springs, however, didn't sit back and allow the Lady 'Landers that luxury. After allowing a little more than a minute to tick off the clock, coach Christopher surprised Cloudland by switching to a half court trap. The move worked as Christopher deflected the first pass after the trap and Jessie Morgan came up with the loose ball with 1:11 left to play.
“I just had a gut feeling that it would work,” Christopher said of the trap. “We didn't want them to get the last shot so we went out after them and it worked.”
After gaining possession, everyone knew what was coming as the Lady 'Cats put the ball in Christopher's hands and let the clock wind down. Christopher made her move to the basket with 10 seconds left and with 4.9 seconds left Christopher's shot found the bottom of the basket.
Christopher led Oliver Springs on the night with 22 points and three assists while Hall added 12 points and four assists.
Johnson had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists to lead the Lady 'Landers.
Oliver Springs now prepares for Wednesday's opening round TSSAA Class A State Tournament opener against an opponent to be determined on Sunday.
“Having a few days off after this is big because we need some rest,” Christopher said. “But from here on out we've got to execute, defend and show championship characteristics.”
Oliver Springs (51) Christopher 22, Hall 12, Ollis 6, Harper 5, Lively 2, Bilyeu 3, Raby 1.