GARDNER — To say things didn't look good for the Marquette girls basketball team at halftime of Thursday's Class 1A regional championship game here against host Gardner-South Wilmington would be an understatement.
The sub-sectional No. 4 Lady Crusaders — after an opening 16 minutes where they hit just 3 of 26 shots and committed 15 turnovers — found themselves down 20 points to the top-seeded Lady Panthers as they took the floor for the start of the second half.
However, Marquette looked like a different, more confident team in the second half as they chipped away at the disadvantage, cutting the GSW lead to a two-possession contest with under a minute to play. But the Lady Panthers were able to stop the locals' comeback hopes in the final seconds to capture their first postseason title since 2008 with a 53-47 triumph.
GSW (27-4) advances to the Putnam County Sectional semifinals. Marquette finishes the season with a 16-14 overall mark.
"There were no magic words from me at halftime," said Marquette coach Kayli O'Flanagan. "Sometimes you just have to be stern and remind them that this is a bigger game than any we've had played this season. If this is something you want, you're going to have to go out, earn it and show it. I think that sunk in with the seniors, and then it trickled down to the rest of the team.
"We then started to play the way we need to, gained a little momentum. We played Lady Crusaders basketball in the second half. I'm proud of the girls. We may have not played well in the first half, but they finished how we should have started.
"We just came up six points short."
The Lady Panthers — which were led in the game by Kaitlynn Kavanaugh's game-high 18 points and 13 rebounds, plus Abby Beck's 14 markers — netted the contest's first eight points, led 16-8 after the opening stanza and held a seemingly commanding 31-11 margin at the intermission.
"We were knocking down shots in the first half and they weren't, but in the second half they were way more aggressive getting to the basket and converting where we struggled a little shooting the ball," said G-SW coach Adam Leigh. "We talked at halftime about keeping our composure, because I knew Marquette, despite the score, wasn't going to go away and they were going to make a run at us.
"Sure enough, they did, but we were able to knock down just enough free throws (19 of 30 overall, but just 4 of 10 in the final frame) to keep them at arm's length.
"I give No. 24 (Josie Eager) a lot of credit, she is a heck of a player now as a sophomore, and I'd guess she's only going to get tougher the next two seasons for them."
Eager — who finished with a team-best 17 points, with six rebounds, two assists and three steals — fueled the Marquette fire by scoring seven points in the third to go along with triples by Ellen Wheatland (nine rebounds) and Molly Snook to help the locals close to within 45-30. She netted seven more points in the fourth, with Emma Thomas adding a pair of hoops and Aubrey McCallum hitting six of her 10 free throws on a 10-for-10 night.
Eager's steal turned layup with just under two minutes left closed MA to within 52-45 and a pair of free tosses by McCallum with 34 seconds to play made it 53-47, but from there the Lady Cru came up empty on a couple chances to draw any closer.
Gardner-South Wilmington 53, Marquette 47
(Key: FG-FGA FT-FTA TP)
MARQUETTE (47) — Ferracuti 1-2 0-0 3, J. Eager 6-17 4-8 17, Thomas 3-4 1-2 7, Stanley 0-3 0-2 0, Wheatland 2-7 1-3 7, McCallum 0-10 10-10 10, Snook 1-7 0-0 3, Kaufmann 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 13-51 16-25 47.
G-SW (53) — Patterson 1-5 1-3 4, Fair 1-4 1-3 3, Beck 4-9 5-7 14, Storm 3-11 0-2 7, Kavanaugh 5-11 8-9 18, Hawks 1-4 4-6 7, Halpin 0-2 0-0 0, Anderson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 19-30 53.
Marquette (16-14) 8 3 19 17 — 47
G-SW (27-4) 16 15 14 8 — 53
3-point goals — Marquette 5-15 (Ferracuti 1-2, J. Eager 1-4, Wheatland 2-5, McCallum 0-1, Snook 1-3); G-SW 4-10 (Patterson 1-3, Beck 1-2, Storm 1-4, Hawks 1-1). Rebounds — Marquette 40 (Wheatland 9, J. Eager 6); G-SW 40 (Kavanaugh 13, Hawks 7). Assists — Marquette 7 (J. Eager 2, Wheatland 2, Snook 2); G-SW 5 (Patterson 2, Beck 2). Steals — Marquette 6 (J. Eager 3); G-SW 11 (Beck 7). Blocks — Marquette 0, G-SW 4 (Beck 2). Turnovers — Marquette 23, G-SW 24. Total fouls (fouled out) — Marquette 20 (Thomas); G-SW 20 (Fair, Kavanaugh).
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