PARK HILLS – The defensive energy level was insufficient as the Mineral Area women’s basketball team gathered just eight total rebounds in the first half while leaving lethal shooters uncovered.
But the Lady Cardinals made a collective effort to battle back on Saturday, and showed flashes of their full potential while outworking their opponents down the stretch.
Freshman point guard Madison Reynolds epitomized the courageous aspect by lasting all 40 minutes, and Mineral Area outscored State Fair 12-2 over the final 2:15 to prevail 81-73.
Four starters finished in double digits, and reserves Ella Gobald and Briar Johnson made clutch plays as the Lady Cardinals ended the contest shooting 54 percent from the field.
Holly Forbes powered in a team-high 19 points despite collecting her third foul just before halftime. The contest contained nine ties and 12 lead changes.
Gobald drained three timely shots in the fourth quarter, and guided a pinpoint entry pass to Forbes, who scored through contact and made the free throw for a 72-71 edge.
Tyeshia Mitchell made an ensuing steal that soon ignited a wild scramble, and teammate Makenzy Smith smothered the ricochet before being landed upon by State Fair guard Maya Brewer.
Smith entered the game at 40-of-42 from the line, but a pair rattled out before she split two more. The MAC lead would still increase, though, as Mitchell finished an attacking layup.
The Roadrunners caught an unlucky break when a floater from the lane circled the cylinder and fell out, and Mineral Area secured the win by making six straight free throws.
Reynolds finished with 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. The Ste. Genevieve graduate capped a perfect 10-of-10 evening from the line to extend a 76-73 margin.
Smith notched 16 points while sinking three shots from beyond the arc. Mitchell ended with 10 points, and Johnson provided nine for Mineral Area (13-7, 3-2).
Allie Golden had eight points with five assists, and posted up a taller defender for her second basket in the early going as the home team briefly jumped ahead 12-9.
State Fair (10-11, 2-3) would receive a tremendous boost from center Catie Kaifes, who went 6-of-7 from extended 3-point range during the first half and netted a game-high 27 points.
Kaifes buried consecutive triples after Brewer beat the first-quarter buzzer, and the Roadrunners built a 35-22 advantage after MAC head coach Gary Koch drew a technical foul.
The Lady Cardinals erased a majority of their 13-point deficit before the break. Reynolds set up Mitchell for a strong layup through contact, and Smith added a 3-pointer to the closing 7-0 run.
Kaifes immediately drilled her seventh and last three from the left corner to extend the 35-31 halftime gap. Two straight baskets from Grace Morrow in the post restored a 53-44 State Fair lead.
Mineral Area decided to escalate the pace with obvious success. Golden reversed a pass to the trailing Smith for a 3-pointer to highlight a 13-3 surge.
Johnson knocked down a baseline turnaround with 1:12 to play in the third, then made a midcourt steal and transition layup to put the Lady Cardinals ahead 57-56.
Gobald duplicated a 3-pointer by Ren’Cia Rolling after calmly draining an 18-footer to open the fourth quarter, but the resulting 68-66 Mineral Area cushion proved fleeting.
The Lady Cardinals improved to 9-1 at home, but have only two scheduled games remaining at Sechrest Fieldhouse. They host unbeaten Moberly next Saturday.
Rolling totaled 11 points with six assists while Brewer and Morrow scored 10 each for State Fair, which suffered from 21 turnovers while inducing 14.