By Jeff Odom
The Freedom girls basketball team locked up the top seed in the Class 7A-District 9 tournament with a 52-48 victory at Steinbrenner Jan. 18.
The Patriots (19-2, 8-0) needed overtime to hand the Warriors (18-5, 6-2) their first regular season home loss in more than two years.
“I love the resiliency of our team,” said Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke. “We were down by seven and came back, and we fought back to take the lead and never gave up.”
Steinbrenner forward Lauren Shedd (nine points, six rebounds) hit a layup at the buzzer to tie the game at 46-46 to send the game to an extra period. The bucket ended an 8-0 run by the Patriots in the final two minutes led by the hot hand of Whitney Ivey (eight points).
Freedom’s Taylor Emery (10 points) opened overtime with a layup, but Steinbrenner answered right back and the two teams remained gridlocked until the final minute.
Emery, who returned to the lineup after missing more than two weeks with a concussion, hit a pair of free throws with 57.9 seconds left to give the Patriots a lead they would not surrender.
Freedom senior forward and Georgetown University signee Faith Woodard, who scored 18 points and surpassed the 1,000-rebound mark in the game, said it was a little frustrating early because the team was plagued with foul trouble and shots that wouldn’t go in.
“In the first, they were really well-prepared,” Woodard said. “We had new players, and (Steinbrenner) hadn’t played against us a lot, but they were definitely prepared a lot more (this) time.”
Steinbrenner led 13-12 after the first quarter and continued rolling on offense in the second as Taylor Thigpen (10 points) knocked down a pair of 3-pointers to extend her squad’s lead to seven.
The Patriots answered with a 10-2 run to knot the game at 26 going into the half capped by guard Neena Pacholke making a pair of free throws after being fouled going for a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Freedom continued its first half momentum in the third with a couple early buckets, but the Warriors echoed the pace with three late shots from Justice Thigpen (three points), Bailey Hooker (15 points, four rebounds and three blocks) and Shedd to bring the score within two.
Then, it all broke loose.
Hooker opened the fourth with two 3-pointers and Steinbrenner’s man-to-man defense kept the Patriots off the board for more than four minutes.
“Steinbrenner’s a great team, and we just have to learn to play our game every time we come out,” Laurie said. “I don’t think we did that there; I think we tried to play more to Steinbrenner instead of Freedom basketball.”
Steinbrenner had one final chance for the win in overtime, but a 3-point attempt by Hooker with five seconds left spun around the rim and bounced out.
Warriors coach JR Allen said his team played the way it wanted to, but inaccuracy at the free throw line (10-of-19) hurt its chances.
“For us, it’s going to be can we mentally deal with what has happened twice now,” Allen said. “In the first game, we didn’t show up offensively … but tonight, that was a lot better. We still had our moments here and there, but for the most part, it was a lot better.”
Allen said it was good to see his team improve against Freedom and expects a third meeting in the district tournament, which runs Jan. 28 to Feb. 2 at Freedom. Steinbrenner is the No. 2 seed.
“I believe we’ll take care of business,” Allen said. “Hopefully we’ll meet each other again for that (district) championship, and if the basketball gods are pleased with both of us we’ll get to play a fourth time.”
The Warriors play at Brandon Jan. 23, the same night the Patriots travel to Wharton. Both games start at 6:30 p.m.
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