Blair Oaks nips California for district tourney title

Lee Ann Polowy of Blair Oaks tries to find her way through the California defense during Sunday afternoon’s Class 3 District 8 Tournament title game in Ashland.

Lee Ann Polowy of Blair Oaks tries to find her way through the California defense during Sunday afternoon’s Class 3 District 8 Tournament title game in Ashland. Photo by Kris Wilson.

ASHLAND, Mo. — Ranked second in the state in Class 3, Blair Oaks has relied on a mixture of offense, defense and intangibles to reach this point in the season.

In Sunday’s Class 3 District 8 championship game, the Lady Falcons had a little luck on their side as well.

Blair Oaks won its first district title since 2008 when California missed a wide-open layup as time expired. The Lady Falcons escaped with a 47-45 victory in dramatic fashion at Southern Boone High School.

Blair Oaks led by that two-point margin with 1.1 seconds left, but the Lady Pintos had one last chance, inbounding the ball from in front of their own bench. It worked like a charm for California. Almost.

After a series of screens with everyone stacked at the free-throw line, Sydney Deeken found a teammate wide open under the basket. But the shot didn’t fall and the Lady Falcons stormed the floor in celebration.

The Lady Falcons now will take on Palmyra in a Class 3 sectional game at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Mexico High School.

“I said, ‘It’s overtime,’” Blair Oaks coach Leroy Bernskoetter said when he saw the open shot. “It dang-near cost us the game. It was a good setup. Once Deeken had the ball you knew that was going to happen with her passing the ball in. We’re just lucky.”

California coach Bobby Sangster said the set is their go-to play in that situation, adding they work on it all the time in practice. Everything but the shot worked as California fell short of its third straight district title.

“My heart goes out to her,” Sangster said. “That game shouldn’t have come down to one shot.”

Blair Oaks, the No. 1 seed, looked like it was going to pull away in the closing seconds. Two free throws by Sara Jones put the Lady Falcons up 46-41 with 31 seconds left.

But a putback by California’s Caitlin Meyer cut the lead to 46-43 with 15 seconds left. Blair Oaks (24-2) then threw the ball away on the ensuing possession and Deeken, who had a game-high 19 points after being held scoreless in a game against Blair Oaks earlier this month, made a layup and was fouled with 8.1 seconds left.

Free throws were a problem all day for second-seeded California, though, and Deeken missed the chance to tie the game. A free throw by Blair Oaks’ Amanda Rackers made it 47-45, setting up the final play.

Sangster wasn’t about to blame the missed layup for the loss. California twice missed the front end of one-and-one free throws in the fourth quarter and made just 6-of-13 for the game, including 3-of-6 in the fourth quarter.

“There are all sorts of critical mistakes, but missed free throws lead to everything,” Sangster said. “It all evens out. It’s not one missed shot, it’s not one missed thing. Every little bit makes it just a little bit more difficult and the hill steeper to climb.”

The entire game had all the drama of a typical Blair Oaks-California sporting event.

California (21-7) led 11-10 after the first quarter before Blair Oaks took a 27-25 halftime lead. The Falcons led 38-36 after three quarters.

Neither team took command of the game. Blair Oaks led by six midway through the second quarter, but California responded with a 7-0 run to take a 22-21 lead. The Pintos never led by more than two.

Despite the close score, Blair Oaks never trailed in the second half.

Polowy finished with 12 points as the Lady Falcons did not record a field goal in the fourth quarter, while hitting 9-of-14 free throws. They hit 17-of-25 for the game.

“It just shows the heart and desire for our team that we’ll do anything to come out with a win, and that’s what we did,” Polowy said.

The Lady Falcons ran into some trouble early when forward Darian Werdehausen picked up two fouls in the first half. But Lauren Viessman came off the bench to score nine points and grab three rebounds in the first half.

“She was huge,” Bernskoetter said of Viessman. “We’ve been talking about how everyone is going to have those opportunities and you step up when those opportunities come, and she did. She gave us a huge, huge lift.”

Amanda Rackers led the Lady Falcons with 13 points. Kamryn Koetting had 11 for California.

After losing eight seniors from last year’s state quarterfinal team, to some, the Lady Pintos may have overachieved this season.

“To finish out in the district championship, second place in conference to these Lady Falcons, pretty good ball season,” Sangster said.

For Blair Oaks, the journey continues this week.

“We don’t want to lose,” Polowy said. “Now win two games and hopefully make the Final Four. We have big goals.”

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