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Difficult conclusion to great season for Chamois girls

Miranda Brandt of Chamois cuts between Walnut Grove defenders Lexi Harman (left) and Madisyn Freeze on her way to a game-tying jumper in the final minute of Saturday night’s Class 1 girls state championship game at Mizzou Arena.

Miranda Brandt of Chamois cuts between Walnut Grove defenders Lexi Harman (left) and Madisyn Freeze on her way to a game-tying jumper in the final minute of Saturday night’s Class 1 girls state championship game at Mizzou Arena. Photo by Kris Wilson.

COLUMBIA — There was no storybook ending for the Chamois Lady Pirates.

A free throw from Walnut Grove’s Heather Harman with 1.1 seconds left gave the Lady Tigers the Class 1 state title with a 47-46 victory Saturday night at Mizzou Arena.

“Somebody’s got to lose,” Chamois head coach Marty Gerloff said in a late-night press conference following the loss. “State championships are supposed to be that way. You can regret and regret, but we stood toe to toe with the No. 1 team in the state. One bounce of the ball, one shot, anything could have changed the game. These girls gave their heart. They kept fighting.”

The game’s ending was fitting, considering Walnut Grove lost last year’s state championship game on a pair of free throws with 3.2 seconds left.

“We’ve already kind of talked about the irony in that, and how we lost last year by a free throw, and this year we stepped up,” Walnut Grove head coach Rory Henry said. “We drew up that set in the timeout. Heather asked (assistant) coach (Jeff) Cope, ‘Should I shoot it or drive?’ We both said take it to the hole. I knew she was going to step up and make that free throw.”

That free throw put an end to Chamois’ magical run, as their first-ever trip to the Final Four ended with a second-place finish.

“It’s really difficult,” said Miranda Brandt, the Chamois senior forward and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville signee who led all scorers with 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting. “This is what we worked for all season. We had our minds set for this, but knowing it was by one point, it could have gone either way.

“It’s hard to swallow. It’s definitely bittersweet. Knowing that we came this far and inspired our whole town, brought our town together, is amazing. That is almost my favorite part. Knowing that the season’s over, and now that I’m a senior and getting ready to graduate, that’s pretty tough.”

Even with the loss, it was a historic year for Chamois. Had the Lady Pirates won, they would have joined the school’s 2009 boys track and field team as the school’s only state champions in any sport.

“It’s amazing because there’s 400 (people) in Chamois,” Gerloff said. “I don’t know how many were here, but both sides, it was just amazing to look up. Both games I took a second and just turned around and looked into the crowd. To have that kind of support and families and little kids, the players are just changing their lives.”

For Gerloff, the one-point loss won’t ruin what the team has accomplished this year.

“In my eyes we won,” he said. “Just because it’s a one-point game. Some people had us as underdogs, but I knew it was going to be a game.

“The season overall was a total success. These girls learned what hard work and discipline will do in life. My seniors will move on and do great things. In the end that’s all that matters. It’s a game, and the life lessons they learned, that’s all that matters.”

After Walnut Grove’s win, Henry was effusive in his praise of the Lady Pirates.

“That’s a very good team over there,” he said. “I don’t even know where to start about that Brandt girl. She is so talented. That’s a strong kid. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a post player that good, that strong.”

Chamois’ five starters — Brandt, Alyssa Bullock, Emily Gilbert, Alison Mehmert and Paige Nolte — played the entire game Saturday night. Only Mehmert (a junior) and Nolte (a sophomore) return for next season.

“They fought their hearts out,” Gerloff said.

Walnut Grove ended the season at 30-2 and with its first state title since 2007, while Chamois closes the year at 23-8.

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