Piedmont head coach Jordan Stark has been part of wild comebacks before as a player and a coach, but her team’s rally Saturday ranks among the best.
Her fourth-ranked Lady Wildcats came back from eight points down in the fourth quarter and six points behind in the last two minutes to edge No. 16 Lawton MacArthur, 54-53, on a shot from Maddie Sperle with six seconds to play to clinch a regional championship.
“The girls kept their confidence the entire game and never gave up,” Stark said. “That’s them. All the credit to them. This shows how much the girls have developed as far as confidence and basketball knowledge.”
Especially Sperle, who said she’d never made a game-winning shot before Saturday. She said her plan on the final play was simple – make something good happen.
“Luckily it worked out,” she said.
Sperle drove into the paint and flipped up a one-handed shot that rattled around the rim and dropped. She intercepted the Highlanders’ final heave down the court to seal the game.
“We’ve been practicing for situations like that,” Sperle said, “so we just had to go out there and do it.”
A pair of free throws from Sydney Gunter, who scored 11 points, gave Mac a 53-50 lead with 22 seconds remaining. Piedmont answered with a layup from McKenna Kirkpatrick with 0:08. On MacArthur’s ensuing inbound pass, Destiny Cobb caught the ball cleanly near the baseline, but her momentum carried her out of bounds.
Sperle finished with 16 points to lead all scorers. Hannah Reasoner added 13 for Piedmont (21-3). Cobb and Neseana Carter put in 12 apiece for MacArthur (12-13).
MacArthur, which averaged 15 turnovers per game this season, limited its miscues all game, but committed four costly giveaways in the final minute. The Highlanders fouled Piedmont 40 feet from the basket twice down the stretch as well.
“Turnovers at the end just killed us. We couldn’t get the ball up the floor,” a despondent Macarthur head coach Danny Garza said afterwards. “Our effort was there, but we’ve got to make plays at the end. Instead going after the win we were afraid to lose and that’s what happened.”
The win moves Piedmont to within a game of its third state tournament appearance in four years. Momentum? Piedmont has some of that.
“I think this gives the girls the reassurance that if you just go out and take care of business, you go to state,” Stark said. “I think it gives them that extra push to go out, be confident and do what you do.”
MacArthur must now navigate its way through the Area consolation bracket for three consecutive games without a loss to reach state.
“We’ve just got to keep on fighting and see what happens next week,” Garza said.