PARK HILLS – Kamryn Winch looked back and gestured toward her bench in exasperation after failing to even catch iron on a drifting pair of potential clinching free throws with 9.9 seconds left.
When Central attacked the lane in desperate hope of sending a basketball game rife with nervous energy into overtime on Thursday night, the 6-foot-3 senior center defiantly stood her ground.
Winch obtained three of her seven blocks within the last 15 seconds of regulation, and registered an enormous double-double to help visiting North County prevail 53-49.
The Lady Raiders committed 22 turnovers and were severely rattled by full-court pressure from Central in the fourth quarter, but dominated the boards to ultimately prevail.
Winch compiled 17 points and 22 rebounds despite a quiet second quarter, and remained available for the dramatic conclusion after picking up three fouls before halftime.
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Paris Larkin finished with 12 points plus four steals, and Hanna Politte added 10 points along with five assists. They factored prominently in a sequence that ultimately put North County (8-3, 1-0) ahead to stay.
Central (10-3, 0-1) offered a smaller lineup down the stretch out of necessity after Halle Richardson and Khloe Dischbein had fouled out.
But the hustling Lady Rebels nearly celebrated a remarkable comeback win after surging from 10 points down with less than nine minutes remaining to draw even.
Politte ended a string of ragged possessions by the Lady Raiders by calmly dribbling her way past multiple defenders and finding Winch inside with the contest square at 49-49.
Although an overall 3-of-14 struggle at the stripe continued for Winch, Central could not stop Larkin from securing the second miss and finding Politte for a drive that induced another foul.
Politte sank both of her attempts with 19.4 seconds remaining for a 51-49 edge, and Winch reached up to firmly deny an ensuing runner as Madison Holmes cut around a screen.
The Lady Rebels deferred a final chance at a make-or-break heave from 3-point range, where they were 0-of-7 in the game, and again met a sturdy obstruction.
Winch tipped a driving layup by Olivia Dunn, then swatted a putback try from Courtney Dortch, who drew glancing contact to the forearm from Hanna Politte that was not detected by officials.
The buzzer sounded after the ball touched Dortch on its way out of bounds, and Lauren Politte added two cosmetic free throws once the clock was reset to three-tenths of a second.
Dischbein scored a game-high 19 points for Central, which suffered only 11 turnovers and shot a solid 11-of-16 from the line. Richardson had 10 points and Holmes made four assists while matching Dischbein with six rebounds.
North County enjoyed an unofficial plus-20 advantage in rebounds, and restored a 39-29 cushion as Winch caught a lob above a triple team and followed her own miss.
Dunn countered with a pull-up jumper among her eight total points before the third quarter ceased, and Richardson slashed the difference to 39-36 on powerful 3-point play.
Hanna Politte responded with a nifty spinning layup, but the Lady Raiders spent the last five minutes of the game flustered by the buzzing Central guards. Veteran head coach Joe Arnold bailed his club out of three likely turnovers by calling for timeouts within that span.
Dischbein tucked a stellar reverse layup past Winch to make it 47-45 after Holmes stole the previous North County possession. Allysa O’Connor dived to create a jump ball moments later.
Central tied the game at 47-47 with Dischbein at the line, and Dortch equaled her perfect trip at 49-49 after Larkin nailed a smooth go-ahead jumper off broken pressure with 1:06 to play.
The Lady Rebels hoped from the outset to disrupt North County before it could settle into a half-court offense, and jumped ahead 8-2 after Holmes banked in a runner and Dischbein scored off her own isolated steal.
Winch soon steadied the Lady Raiders with seven points and nine rebounds in the opening quarter, and an 18-2 run was highlighted when Hanna Politte dished to Emma Gaugel just before time expired.
Gaugel opened the second with a 3-pointer, and Kate Jones rebounded her own missed free throw to score uncontested for a 21-10 lead after Central boxed out but failed to pursue the loose ball.
Dischbein netted six straight points, and Dunn sank a short jumper during a 12-3 response that brought the Lady Rebels within two before halftime.
Larkin landed back-to-back threes, however, and a resulting 8-0 spurt gave North County a 32-22 lead at intermission. Winch completed a 3-point play in heavy traffic to maintain some separation at 37-29.
Central finished 31 percent from the field, and sustained its third home loss within the past month by a combined 14 points.