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Harrisburg battled toe to toe for two-and-a-half quarters against one of the state’s best Class 1 teams Wednesday night in the semifinals of the Glasgow Tournament. But midway through the third …
Harrisburg battled toe to toe for two-and-a-half quarters against one of the state’s best Class 1 teams Wednesday night in the semifinals of the Glasgow Tournament. But midway through the third quarter, Cairo found another gear to turn a tied ball game into a 60-33 win.
Cairo now has the chance to play for a third straight tournament title on Saturday. The Lady Bearcats have claimed the tournament championship five out of the last six seasons and, as the top-seeded team, are the clear favorites to three-peat.
Typically, a game with a 27-point differential isn’t considered close. But the two teams were tied until the four-and-a-half-minute mark of the third quarter. That’s when everything changed. Cairo’s tall center, Macie Harman, had been held to just two points all game until a three-point play sparked a 13-0 run that vaulted the Lady Cats to a 39-26 lead heading into the final quarter.
“The final score definitely does not indicate how good of a game it was for both teams,” said Harrisburg coach Ryan Richardson. “It was a heck of a battle. I thought we went toe to toe with them the whole way. But basketball is a game of momentum. They’re a veteran team, and they did a very good job of limiting our runs.
“I think the difference at the end was that when the game got bigger, we got a little bit tighter. And that’s just the sign of a young team.
Cairo finished the game on a tear, outscoring the Lady Bulldogs 21-7 in the final quarter to win the game by a wide margin.
But the way the game ended is not the way it started. Both teams spent the first minutes of the game sorting out the opposing pressure. Fourth-seeded Harrisburg scored first and pulled ahead 5-2 lead on a 3-point shot from the top of the key from sophomore Jaidyn Stephenson.
“We wanted to put some pressure on them,” Richardson said. “We told the girls that we were going to come out and throw the first punch. We were going to play physical. I was willing to give up fouls early to establish that we were here to play. Physicality-wise, I thought we took it to them. They more than answered the bell in the second half and took it to us.”
Cairo pulled ahead from the line to end the first quarter ahead 12-6. The Lady Bearcats made it a nine-point game on a 3-point bucket by freshman sharpshooter Chloe Brumley inside the first minute of the second quarter.
Those were the only points scored for nearly the first half of the second period. But Harrisburg broke the spell with a 3-pointer by senior Emma Fischer with 4:20 on the board to spark a nine-point run over the next four minutes to take a 16-15 lead.
Cairo jumped back in front, scoring only its second basket of the period. Junior Avery Brumley attacked the basket with a layup and drew a foul. She sank the bonus free-throw to put her team in front by two with 6.8 seconds left to play in the half.
But Harrisburg answered with a 2-point buzzer-beater from junior Macie Ellis to tie the game at 18 apiece heading into the break.
Despite the low scoring, Richardson said he was thrilled with the way his team played for the first two quarters. “If you’d have said we only scored 18, I would have said, ‘No, we only gave up 18’.”
Richardson told his team at halftime they had shaken the state-contending Lady Bearcats in the first half. “I thought if we could win the first three minutes coming out of halftime, then we really had a shot to win this thing.”
Harrisburg took a quick lead 20 seconds into the second half on a bucket by senior Abby Rosson. But Cairo battled back and took the first of three lead changes over the next three minutes.
Tied 24-24 with 4:28 on the clock, Cairo took the lead for good on a pair of free throws by Avery Brumley. The Lady Bearcats scored the next 13 points to all but put the game away.
“They were deeper than us. They could sub a lot more. I was burning through timeouts just to try and keep legs,” Richardson said.
Cairo doubled down on the pressure and used its size to settle into the game it’s used to playing, which wore down the Lady Bulldogs and disrupted their rhythm.
Cairo forward Macie Harman had been held to just two points all game until converting on a three-point play midway through the third. She then ruled the lane throughout the remainder of the game.
“You can’t teach size. She’s one of the best players in the area, and not just because of size. She has the skills, too. We had a game plan for her, and I really think we executed that plan on her. But we had to start forcing and pressing a little bit at the end.”
Harrisburg was led by senior Abby Rosson with 10 points, every one of which was contested. She had the assignment of guarding Harmon, who she held to a single-digit performance.
Fellow senior Emma Fischer, playing the game on a sore ankle twisted in the opening round two days prior, picked up four points with a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Richardson said up until game time, he wasn’t sure if Fischer would play.
“She looked at me and said, ‘I’m playing tonight.’ And I said, ‘OK’. Sometimes you just have to ride your horses,” Richardson said.
“They left it all out there. There wasn’t anything left in the tank, and that’s all you could ask for. That’s why they’re such great seniors. They are special. And I’m just really grateful they’re on our team.”
Stephenson finished nine points for the Lady Dawgs, with a 3-point shot in the opening quarter. Ellis added five points. Brette Ackman chipped in three, and Mady Mitchell had two points.
“I have a whole new level of expectation for this group,” Richardson said about a team that lost its two leading scorers from a year ago. “Even though it was a loss, I’m probably more excited now for the potential of this group than I ever have been.”
Cairo now moves on to play for the right to claim its third straight tournament title and its sixth in seven years. The Lady Bearcats will face either sixth-seeded New Franklin or seventh-seeded Westran, both of which advanced after first-round upsets.
New Franklin surprised third-seeded Fayette with a five-point win on Tuesday. Westran stunned second-seeded Marceline, 55-37. The two teams are scheduled to play Thursday night.
Harrisburg will watch Thursday’s game with the same anticipation. The Lady Bulldogs will face the loser at noon on Saturday for the third-place hardware.
“Westran came out and looked like a whole new team this year,” Richardson said. “They’re a scary team right now. New Franklin has a program in place, and they have a basketball tradition there, too. They just methodically beat people down.”
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