PARK HILLS – Mineral Area women’s basketball head coach Briley Palmer spent much of her first season seeking consistency from a roster comprised almost exclusively of freshmen.
With two main contributors ruled out for the first round of the Region 16 tournament on Tuesday night, her Cardinals could not generate enough spurts of energy to continue onward.
Jefferson delivered and maintained a spirited start on Tuesday night, and avenged three sizable regular-season losses by stunning Mineral Area 69-65 at Sechrest Fieldhouse.
Mar Tomas scored 15 points to lead four players in double figures as Jefferson (7-16) advanced to face unbeaten top seed Three Rivers in the semifinal round on Thursday.
The Vikings received 13 points, four assists and three steals from Myisha Malone, and avoided the large rebounding disparity that proved costly in previous meetings.
Mineral Area (9-13) shook off a lethargic opening sequence that included four straight turnovers and saw the visitors gash its defense for a 9-0 run.
But subpar free-throw shooting, 19 total turnovers and faulty decision making haunted the Cardinals, who did not have second-leading scorer Jayla Sample and Ashanti Davis in uniform for undisclosed reasons.
Mariah Stewart and Quincy Erickson shared game-high honors with 18 points, while Nijah Moore posted 14 points and 12 rebounds in the season-ending loss. Stewart also grabbed nine rebounds.
Tomas sandwiched consecutive baskets on assists from Katerina Patkova around two missed layups at the other end, and Jefferson established a 62-53 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
Mineral Area trailed by eight with 1:54 left, but mounted a steady push before falling short. Erickson hit a 3-pointer in the left corner for her final field goal of a strong freshman campaign.
Defense enhanced the desperate comeback attempt. Multi-sport athlete Emily Kellum, used sparingly as a basketball walk-on, came up with a timely steal inside the final minute.
Michaela Ayers capitalized with another corner triple to make it 65-63, and the Cardinals earned an unlikely chance to tie or take the lead when a backcourt trap induced a traveling violation.
Point guard Yasmine Pankey did not force the pass as Erickson made a backdoor baseline cut, and the Vikings would strip the ball later in the possession as Erickson tried to create on a congested drive.
Malone drained two clutch free throws, and Patkova sealed the outcome with another pair after Stewart sank a 16-footer for MAC with 2.7 seconds on the clock.
Jefferson finished 16-of-23 from the line compared to 17-of-30 by Mineral Area, which never won more than two consecutive games this season.
Palmer will enter the offseason facing several personnel decisions. A squad that shot just 38 percent from the field over the season is primed to receive a needed boost once signed local high school standouts Gracee Smith of Arcadia Valley and Dori McRaven of West County arrive on campus.
“This year has been nothing but learning for me, and I’m proud to represent Mineral Area,” Palmer said in a radio interview. “I’m excited for our future. It’s been ups and down and highs and lows. It won’t define me or this program. It will make us better.”
Kelly Hunter netted 11 points and Laila McNeil added 10 points with eight rebounds for Jefferson, which offered the initial scoring jolt in an ongoing back-and-forth battle.
The Cardinals regrouped from a timeout with a 14-4 counter. Moore was fouled on a driving bank shot, and Stewart powered her way to the basket for another 3-point play.
Pankey finished with eight assists, and made a steal that Moore followed in transition for the first MAC lead of the contest at 14-13.
Jefferson never fell into a sustained offensive lull, however, and restored a 22-15 advantage as a Malone fast-break layup capped a 7-0 run before the first quarter concluded.
Vikings coach Ashley McGee picked up a technical after 11 of the first 13 fouls were called against her crew, which stayed focused after a forced bank shot by Olivia Jecty-Brown drew the Cardinals within 26-24.
Tomas drove past Stewart for a 3-point play at 33-27, and the visitors headed into halftime with a 34-32 edge after Moore drove end to end for a basket.
Erickson cut the Jefferson lead to 43-42 on a putback, then regained the lead for Mineral Area 47-45 on an effective drive down the left baseline.
But she sat for a little while after picking up her fourth foul on a skip pass from Ayers that Tomas intercepted late in the third quarter
Brooke Smith made an excellent block at the defensive end, but threw a bad lead pass out of bounds with a chance to hold for the final shot after Kayleigh Winch dropped in a tying putback.
Jefferson instead burned the Cardinals on a 3-pointer by Hunter with time winding down, and Patkova opened the fourth with another connection from long range for a 55-49 lead.
Patkova tallied nine points with eight rebounds, and Jayrissa Grayson amassed 10 rebounds, seven points and four assists as Jefferson snapped a five-game slide.