PARK HILLS – The Central girls basketball team saw the obvious improvement by Arcadia Valley over the past few weeks firsthand in the MAAA Tournament on Thursday night.
But the Lady Rebels showed the experience and composure of a battle-tested squad when a berth in the championship game was being threatened down the stretch.
Seniors Caitlyn Holmes and Skyler Amonette powered a clinching 12-3 run in the closing minutes, and Central emerged with a 67-59 semifinal win.
Central (21-1) earned its 15th consecutive victory, and will look for their sixth tournament title in seven years when they face Farmington on Saturday in a battle of the top two seeds.
Holmes scored 18 of her game-high 24 points during the first half, and returned from a six-minute rest due to foul trouble to sink a pair of crucial jumpers. She also grabbed nine rebounds.
Arcadia Valley (13-9) saw its 7-game streak conclude, but not before cutting a 16-point deficit to four at 55-51 when junior Jaesa Brockes canned a 3-pointer with 3:57 to play.
Central ran a patient half-court set after calling a timeout, and Amonette cashed in a driving layup. She would add four insurance free throws in the final minute to finish with 18 points.
Holmes inflicted most of her damage in the paint early on, but buried a confident 18-footer and struck again from a similar distance to answer a basket by AV senior Makayla Moise at 61-54.
Karissa Belfield contributed nine first-half points, and freshman Sophia Horton tallied eight points with seven rebounds for the Lady Rebels. Amonette dished out seven assists.
Moise paced the Lady Tigers with 16 points, while Brockes netted 14 and Gracee Smith provided 13. Josie Landrum had a team-high eight rebounds from her guard position.
Central looked to establish a frenetic pace through its usual swarming defense, but Arcadia Valley weathered the initial storm and generated a couple of layups off broken pressure.
Holmes notched six field goals in the first quarter, along with her team’s first 10 points, and Belfield nailed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded for a 20-10 advantage.
Smith finished a driving layup, and Brockes made an ensuing steal before setting up Moise on the run to boost AV in the second quarter.
Horton restored a 30-20 Central margin with a putback, and gained another brief advantage as opposing point guard Katie Whited and Moise each picked up three fouls before halftime.
Amonette swooped in for a defensive rebound, then raced into the frontcourt and found Belfield for a layup and a 36-23 separation in the closing seconds.
The Lady Rebels enjoyed their largest lead at 43-27 after Amonette hit a 3-pointer, and Horton scored a second-chance shot after Callie Thurston ripped an offensive rebound away.
Whited countered with an excellent runner of the glass before taking a seat with four fouls, and Smith drew AV within 45-37 with two free throws after drawing the fourth against Holmes.
Moise converted a 3-point play after winning a rebound against two Lady Rebels with 4:28 left, and the resulting 53-48 difference prolonged the upset bid for a while longer.