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Wabash Valley survives furious Mineral Area rally

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PARK HILLS – Two Mineral Area women’s basketball starters picked up their fourth personal fouls near the midway juncture of the third quarter, and another was unable to play at all.

Running low on time, energy and available bodies, the Cardinals still erased an 11-point deficit to carry an improbable lead into the final minute on Wednesday evening.

But Daijah Smith rescued 12th-ranked Wabash Valley on a go-ahead jumper with 49 seconds to play, and the Warriors defended a jumbled final possession by MAC to secure a 72-69 victory.

The clutch fadeaway gave Smith 17 points plus 10 rebounds overall, and Darlisha Reed netted 13 of her 17 points during the first half for the visitors.

Shaulana Wagner added 15 points and five assists. Wabash Valley (15-1) entered the contest with six players averaging double figures, and notched its 14th consecutive win.

Each team committed just 11 turnovers in their respective returns from a three-week holiday break, and Mineral Area (13-6) found itself short-handed right away.

Point guard Yasmine Pankey was unable to play, and Nijah Moore tweaked her ailing ankle after logging eight minutes of action in the first half. The Cardinals had one fewer coach on the bench after assistant Carmichael Wiley recently left the program.

MAC trailed 54-43 and appeared to be tiring as Reed scored on a driving dish from Wagner, who was difficult to stop off the dribble down the stretch.

Serious foul trouble against key ball handler Raissa Nsabua and forward Quincy Erickson compounded the challenge to respond, but the Cardinals did.

Lexi McCully nailed three straight 3-pointers for a personal 9-0 run, and Michaela Ayers swished her fourth of the game from the right side to make it 58-57 with 7:15 remaining.

Although Wagner countered with three separate layups while totaling 10 points in the final period, Mineral Area continued to fire away from the perimeter.

Erickson, whose rest with four fouls was brief, worked along the boards to draw three fouls against the Warriors in a single possession. Her 3-pointer off a kickout by Ayers yielded a 60-60 tie.

The Cardinals finished 12-of-31 from beyond the arc, getting five triples each from McCully and Ayers, who ended with 19 and 15 points, respectively.

Stewart earned an offensive rebound before finding Ayers open for three, and MAC got a defensive stop that enabled McCully to sink a 16-footer for a 69-68 lead with 1:18 remaining.

After Smith put Wabash Valley in front, the Cardinals were unable to connect twice from long range, and never attempted a potential tying shot after inbounding with 14.3 on the clock.

Erickson finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Stewart tallied eight points with 10 rebounds in defeat. Nsabua had a team-high four assists.

The Warriors, who lone setback occurred against No. 2 Three Rivers in the opening week, grabbed an early 17-7 lead after 3-pointers by Jasmine Elder and Smith highlighted a 10-0 run.

Mineral Area showed an aggressive streak in response. Erickson powered through snug defense to finish a layup, and Moore struck with a baseline drive to draw her team within 19-16.

Wabash Valley coach Luke Scheidecker was assessed a technical foul early in the second quarter, and nearly picked up another despite remaining relatively calm.

His squad restored a 39-33 advantage after moving passes into Reed for four baskets during the stanza. Claire Simmons opened the third quarter with a conventional 3-point play.

Mineral Area faced a 49-39 deficit until Gracee Smith reached high to save an errant pass in the corner, drove the baseline and found Mariah Stewart to eventually shift the momentum.

The Cardinals made 9-of-12 free throws, and will host Region 16 rival Moberly on Saturday.

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