PARK HILLS – With defenders converging and swiping at her from several directions, Makenzy Smith refused to relinquish control of the basketball until a whistle finally sounded.
The sophomore guard sank two resulting free throws to snap a 68-68 tie with 35 seconds remaining, and the Mineral Area women outlasted Crowder 74-70 for their initial Region 16 win.
Holly Forbes posted 16 points with 14 rebounds for the Lady Cardinals (11-5, 1-1), who drained 23-of-32 free throws after entering the contest at just 58 percent for the season.
A rematch of last year’s region finalists featured plenty of heavy contact and moments of verbal jousting between the participants. Four players would eventually foul out.
Mineral Area carried a 45-44 lead through the conclusion of a ragged third quarter after freshman Briar Johnson received a pass inside and converted a 3-point play.
The margin increased to 54-48 after Ella Gobald sank a pair of 3-pointers, but the Lady Roughriders used a steal and layup by Morgan Crawford to ignite a 12-3 spurt.
Alex Vogt beat the defense while cutting toward an inbounds pass with 3:53 to play, and her completed 3-point play put Crowder ahead 60-57.
Mineral Area trailed 66-64 before executing a string of solid possessions down the stretch. Johnson hit a tying putback moments after returning to the action.
Forbes then secured a defensive rebound, dribbled away from a backcourt trap, and fired an assist on the run to Tyeshia Mitchell for a go-ahead layup at 68-66.
Maegan Bandimere nailed a jumper in response for Crowder, but the Lady Cardinals made 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute while a pair of perimeter shots by the visitors missed the mark.
Madison Reynolds compiled 12 points with five assists, and Smith added 11 points as both played 36 minutes in the victory. Mitchell finished with nine points and six rebounds.
Mineral Area looked to move on from disheartening losses to Three Rivers and Arkansas Baptist, and utilized effective ball movement to create open shots early on.
Smith nailed consecutive jumpers and swished a 3-pointer with two seconds left after Forbes likewise notched her third field goal of the first quarter.
Gobald connected from the baseline, and Olivia White finished an excellent lob from Mary Katherine Tucker to create a 25-12 separation.
Crowder (12-6, 0-1) kept the starting five of the Lady Cardinals scoreless in the second quarter, however, and stormed back with an emphatic 18-0 outburst.
A defensive change forced a series of difficult and often rushed shots off the dribble by MAC, while the Lady ‘Riders began to calmly find their range.
Crawford attacked the lane to score on back-to-back possessions, and 3-pointers by Bandimere and Nicole Ickes put Crowder in front.
Ickes capped the run with another triple for a 30-25 advantage, and Tori Coulter beat the buzzer with a wide-open 3-pointer to make the halftime margin 36-30.
Mitchell sparked Mineral Area out of the locker room by immediately diving on the floor near midcourt to induce a jump ball, and Forbes used a smooth hesitation drive to score inside.
Reynolds and Smith provided perfect trips to the line, and the Lady Cardinals regained a 39-38 edge with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
White and Gobald each tallied eight points, and Johnson totaled seven points plus six rebounds. Mineral Area will host Rend Lake in a 2 p.m. matinee on Monday.
Ickes netted a game-high 17 points for the Lady ‘Riders. Crawford finished with 14 while Michaela Mack had 12 points and nine rebounds.
Crawford fouled Forbes with a push near the Crowder bench in the closing seconds, and Forbes made the clinching free throw after matching technical fouls were assessed.