CUBA, Mo. – Steelville blew a 7-point lead in overtime, and could not recover after Skyler Amonette hit a crushing a 3-pointer to help the host team rip the Central Christmas Tournament title away.
Freshman Sydney Booker ensured that her team would not relive that scenario on Thursday night with the first district crown in school history hanging in the balance.
Booker blocked a corner attempt by Amonette in the closing seconds, and the Lady Cardinals secured a thrilling 46-42 triumph in the fierce Class 3, District 3 final.
Hannah Cottrell and Faith Bair each scored 12 points, and Steelville (24-4) regained its composure after severely buckling under the relentless trapping defense of Central (25-2).
Caitlyn Holmes posted game highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Rebels in her varsity finale, but became a spectator after fouling out with 1:05 to play.
With the score even at 42-42, Bair hustled toward the baseline as Central defenders watched an air ball bounce. Her save resulted in a scrambling foul, and teammate Abby Booker sank both free throws.
Callie Thurston had a chance to answer from the line with 7.4 seconds remaining, but missed both after entering the action at 78 percent on the season.
Possession stayed with Central after the rebound was deflected over the baseline, and a designed play to have Amonette attempt the game-winner was detected and erased.
Despite a thrilling comeback from 12 points down, the Lady Rebels had streaks of four straight district championships and 19 consecutive wins overall vanish.
Central displayed a reluctance – perhaps even some defiance – while bypassing mid-range or perimeter jumpers for the prospect of creating much closer shots.
But on a night when senior guards Karissa Belfield and Amonette netted just three points each, the Lady Rebels were nearly rescued by a stellar effort from freshman Sophia Horton.
Horton tallied 14 points in the second half – including five within a span of 26 seconds – and finished a backdoor lob from Amonette for a tying 3-point play after Steelville had regained a 42-37 edge.
The teams established a bruising tone from the outset. But after seven combined fouls were whistled in the first half, tighter officiating resulted in 23 called after the intermission.
Steelville built its largest lead of 32-20 after Alyssa Church and Abby Booker nailed back-to-back triples, and drew a subsequent charging foul late in the third quarter.
Thurston sparked Central with a putback, however, and alertly dribbled end to end for a layup that beat the buzzer and trimmed the margin to 33-26.
Horton continued a 13-1 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, and converted two free throws with 4:13 left to put Central ahead 37-36 after the Lady Cardinals were pressured into several turnovers.
Cottrell steadied Steelville by knocking down a go-ahead 14-footer in the lane. She escaped a cluster of bodies on the next possession, and found Bair open for a layup and 41-37 edge.
The contest at Cuba High School enticed a crowd that reached full capacity nearly 30 minutes before tip-off. Many paying customers were relegated to viewing a video screen in the commons area.
Holmes muscled in a second-chance shot for a 5-4 Central advantage, one of only two Central leads. But Steelville dominated the last five minutes of the first quarter.
Cottrell slashed toward the basket for a conventional 3-point play to make it 17-6 after Abby Booker swished a long 3-pointer.
The Lady Rebels fought back to surrender just two points over the next eight minutes. Holmes scored twice to bring her team within 19-14 at the break.
Amonette, who netted a career-high 32 points in the late December classic, produced three steals and five assists in defeat.