PARK HILLS – Injuries and inconsistency have created numerous roadblocks through the season for the Mineral Area women’s basketball team.
The Lady Cardinals still hoped to create the same postseason magic that brought an improbable Region 16 championship one year ago, and were in prime position to clear the first hurdle.
A tremendous close to the third quarter marked a spirited comeback, and Mineral Area committed just one turnover during an 18-minute stretch of the second half.
But three turnovers in the final 40 seconds and questionable foul strategy turned a five-point lead into a shocking, season-ending collapse on Tuesday night.
Fifth-seeded State Fair recovered after blowing a 12-point lead, and scored nine of the last 10 points to upend the Lady Cardinals 64-61 in a Region 16 first-round game at Sechrest Fieldhouse.
Catie Kaifes scored 18 points, Maya Brewer and Jazzmyn Elston netted 16 each, and the Roadrunners (14-16) advanced to face unbeaten Moberly (29-0) in the semifinals on Thursday.
Seven lead changes occurred in the fourth quarter, and Mineral Area (15-12) appeared poised to carry the sixth one to victory.
Ella Gobald scored with a putback and subsequent baseline drive after briefly leaving the action to wipe blood from her mouth, and Holly Forbes powered her way inside to create a 60-55 edge.
Another defensive stop gave the Lady Cardinals a chance to melt crucial time away, but Brewer stole a soft pass near midcourt and made an uncontested layup with 33 seconds to play.
Makenzy Smith split a pair of free throws to restore a 61-57 margin, and Mineral Area had chances to impede the opposition with three available fouls to give.
But the Lady Cardinals instead left Ren’Cia Rolling open for a 3-pointer that made the difference one, and State Fair intercepted a shaky pass from the corner before needing to concede a foul.
Elston put the Roadrunners ahead 62-61 by hitting two free throws with 7.1 seconds left, and Brewer added two more after the Lady Cardinals fired the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds.
Smith, who tallied a game-high 22 points plus four assists for Mineral Area, missed a desperation 30-footer just before time expired.
Forbes compiled 17 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Gobald added 12 points. The Lady Cardinals suffered their fourth defeat in a row.
State Fair capped the second quarter with three consecutive 3-pointers – including two from Kaifes – off Mineral Area turnovers after its early lead had been trimmed to 23-20.
Brewer turned a putback into a 3-point play out of halftime for a 35-23 advantage, and another triple by Kaifes maintained a healthy separation at 42-31.
Mineral Area would surge over the next five minutes, however, spurred by a follow-up shot and aggressive drive from Smith. Gobald then swished two 3-pointers on kickout passes from Smith and Allie Golden.
Madison Reynolds drew a charging foul against Brewer, then buried a 17-footer from the right side to propel the Lady Cardinals ahead 47-46.
Smith established a new career high for the second straight game, and posted double figures in nine consecutive contests to complete her second year with MAC.
State Fair opened the game on a 13-4 run, punctuated by a steal and transition layup by Rolling. A corner 3-pointer by Smith cut that margin to 15-11 before the first quarter concluded.