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Late charge not enough for Lady Bobcats

This time, the hole for the second-ranked R.C. Hatch Lady Bobcats was just a little too deep.

A last-ditch rally by comeback-specialists Hatch trimmed what had been a 10-point Sand Rock lead in the 2A state semifinals to 67-63 with 23 seconds left. But when a loose ball scramble resulted in senior point guard Vinecia Dudley’s fifth foul with 16 seconds to play, the rally fell short 69-63, and Sand Rock moved on to the state finals.

“I told the kids they had a great season. They played hard and they played well,” said Hatch head coach Walter F. Abrahams. “Only four teams in the state make it this far. We didn’t win tonight, but other than that we had a great season.”

Hatch might have made it further than that had it not been for an incredible performance from Sand Rock’s Taylor Burt. The senior point guard finished with 39 points, tying the 2A girls’ tournament record.

“We had man-to-man on her and (Ashley Beck),” Abrahams said. “But we let them penetrate and get into the middle. They have good ballhandlers. When we got into foul trouble, we had to bring in some players off the bench that didn’t really understand that you have to help out on defense. Other than that, I think we played pretty well.”

As they had in both their Regional games (and many games before), the Lady Bobcats got off to a rocky start. Sand Rock jumped out to a 9-2 lead behind Burt as Hatch missed five of their first six shots.

But, predictably, the Lady Bobcats worked their way back into the game behind Dudley. The senior scored four straight points and Hatch’s first six of the game to cut the lead to 9-6. Sand Rock would answer, pushing the lead to 15-8 at the end of the first quarter and 18-10 with 6:20 left in the half. But Dudley, Mitchell, and Paige combined on a 13-5 run over the next 4 minutes and 40 seconds to tie the game at 23.

Sand Rock finished the half with all the momentum, however, scoring twice–including a pivotal Burt-assisted layup at the buzzer–to take a 27-23 lead into the locker room.

It was a lead they would never relinquish. Two consecutive threes and a pair of free throws over four Sand Rock possessions, all by Burt, spurred a 10-2 run that took the Wildcat lead from 36-33 to 44-33 in less than a minute.

But the Lady Bobcats weren’t done yet. In a manic, end-to-end finish to the period that featuring several big shots by both Dudley and Mitchell, Hatch pulled within 49-46 on a Mitchell three-pointer at the buzzer. The run continued into the fourth quarter as another Mitchell basket 35 seconds in extended the spurt to 15-5 and cut the lead to one.

Hatch would not be able to take the lead, however. With post players Mitchell, Paige, and Janita Essex all in foul trouble Burt was able to get into the lane repeatedly, scoring to increase the lead to 55-49 and then 58-51. After Mitchell scored to close the lead to five with 4:03 to play, Hatch went scoreless over the next two minutes as Sand Rock stalled, a Paige shot missed, and Dudley traveled. By the time Essex scored Hatch’s first field goal in four minutes at the 1:17 mark, the lead was 10.

Dudley did her best to produce a miracle comeback, scoring on three straight possessions, including a banked-in three-pointer, to cut the lead to 67-63 with 23 seconds. But Sand Rock’s Angelique Kordich hit one of two and when Mitchell’s last gasp three fell short, the game was over.

“We knew they were a team that comes back a lot,” said Sand rock head coach Lisa Bates. “We talked about handling that, about being mentally ready, and we were.”

Dudley led Hatch with 28 points while Mitchell finished with 20. They were joined in double figures by Paige with 13, while Essex’s 2 rounded out the scoring.

It was the final game in the careers of seniors Dudley, Mitchell, Paige, and Sheleta Banks.