Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With just over 30 seconds left in the game, Lutheran West's Claire Gutheil pulled up on the left wing and drained a long-range 3-pointer. In an instant, Fairview saw its already tenuous lead shrink to a mere point.
And the Warriors' grip of first place in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stripes Division hung in the balance as well.
Fairview, however, pulled it together in the final seconds and escaped Wittrock Gymnasium with a hard-fought 32-26 win Wednesday night in a key PAC matchup. The win allowed the Warriors to remain one game ahead of second-place Columbia.
"We've been in a few of these games both last year and so far this year," said Warriors head coach Bill Harvey, whose team moved to 13-5 overall and 12-1 in the PAC.
"I looked at them during one of our timeouts and said 'we've been here, we've done this.' When I called the one out of bounds play, they all smiled because we've done that before. They know it's going to work. They relaxed, drew the foul, came down and knocked down some free throws.
"We ran another play, executed and shot the free throws. We've been in this position before, and we were able to close it out," he added.
The two teams struggled mightily on offense the entire night, with just 20 field goals made between them for the entire game. So when Gutheil made her big trey, her second of the fourth quarter, the Longhorns found themselves with a shot at the upset.
But after a timeout with 30.5 seconds remaining, the Warriors went to work.
On their next possession, senior forward Kaprina Hawkinson was fouled in the backcourt. She stepped to the line and made both ends of a one-and one to give Fairview a little more breathing room, 29-26, with 27.3 ticks left on the clock.
Lutheran West inbounded the ball against a Warrior press and turned the ball over. It was the Longhorns' 20th turnover of the game and resulted in a quick foul. Senior guard Kelsey Bilak split a pair of free throws to grow her team's lead to four.
The Longhorns again failed to score, and Harvey called a timeout with :07.4 to go. Moments later, Bilak nailed both ends of the bonus to clinch the win and preserve the Warriors' Stripes Division lead.
"We had spent four or five days in a row in practice working on the traps and the type of things they would throw at us," said Lutheran West head coach Trey Senney. "We were prepared.
"But this game every year, home or away, is a big one," he said. "The kids seem to be a little flustered by the arena of the game. They kind of put the rivalry above playing the regular game.
"We spent a lot of time talking about everything on the outside that doesn't matter, that it was what went on inside the sidelines and baselines that would make the difference. But we let that rivalry stuff really affect us and take us out of our game initially.
"We went through stretches of four to five minutes where we weren't getting any offensive possessions. That really hurt us," he said.
Neither team got much going offensively. Fairview had a slim 5-2 led after one quarter of play and held an equally slim 13-10 advantage at the half. In the second half, the two teams combined for 20 turnovers as the game's pace picked up.
Fairview, which led the entire game, had its biggest lead late in the fourth quarter, 27-21, on a drive for two from sophomore Mo Wolansky and a hook shot from senior Rachel Malloy.
But a rebound for two from Carleen Ellerbruch and Gutheil's third 3-pointer of the game made things much tighter down the stretch.
"We were in that position where as the game went on, I knew it was going to come down to a handful of possessions," admitted Senney, whose team fell to 7-9 overall and 7-6 in the PAC.
"In the second half when we made a couple of those shots, there was a feeling among the coaches that one more three or two more rebounds would put us over the top," he said. "But we were never up the whole game, so that was that mental block we had to get over.
"Had we gotten one more of those rebound putbacks early in the fourth quarter to get up two or three, then all of a sudden they're feeling the pressure of having to make the next shot," he said.
Senney admitted his team found things challenging against Fairview's trapping 2-3 halfcourt zone.
"We struggle at times in the half court when we're not making outside shots," he admitted. "Tonight was one of those games where you had to had to win the game by winning half-court possessions.
"We just struggled at times to really put together quality shots, and that really affected the outcome. We put ourselves in the scenario that every next three attempt mattered.
"We lost that ability to attack the hoop, or maybe take a 12-foot shot instead of one from 18 or 19 feet," he added.
Gutheil and Abby DeSimpelare led the Longhorns with 11 points each. Harvey admitted the duo was the prime focus of his team's defensive plan.
"Coming into this game, we knew they had lost Maddie Thomas with a shoulder injury," Harvey said. "She was a good outside shooter for them, so that limited them on the outside.
"We figured we could pack it in on their post players, keep an eye on where No. 3 and No. 30 were and keep them under wraps. In the second half, though, we lost them a couple times," he said.
But the Lutheran West defense proved to be just as tough. Bilak led the Warriors with 12 points, but managed just the three free throws in the fourth quarter. Malloy scored six of her seven points in the final frame, while Wolansky and junior Sarah Digennaro chipped in with five points each.
"We have been on a roller coast this season," Harvey said. "Sometimes we're clicking on all cylinders and we're scoring 50 to 60 points.
"Tonight was one of those nights where we couldn't throw it in the ocean. We were running like we were in mud," he said. "But one thing's for sure, our kids played defense. The last couple of years, we've been holding people to around 31 points a game.
"That's why I told them at halftime, 'hey, it's 13-10. It was an ugly half of basketball. But you're winning.' And that was because of our defense," he said.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this game: