Unionís Kaci Langford goes up for a shot as Pilot Rock defenders surround her in the second quarter of the championship game of the Optimist Christmas Classic Saturday. CASEY KELLAS/The Observer
Union girls overcome 24-point deficit to defeat Pilot Rock, 46-44
The Lady Cats have a penchant for drama.
Or so it seems this season.
After a pair of overtime games already this season, Union had another game come down to the final seconds Saturday in the Optimist Christmas Classic championship game, rallying to defeat Pilot Rock 46-44.
But the fact that they even made a game of it was shocking alone.
The Rockets built a 17-3 lead in the first quarter, turning careless Union turnovers into easy buckets at the other end.
Pilot Rock got its lead to as much as 24 points at 31-7 midway through the second quarter.
“It was a slow start,” coach Tessa Nicholson said.
“We had cold feet. I think the girls were intimidated. Pilot Rock is a league rival. So I think it was intimidation early on.”
The Lady Cats were able to close the first half strong, going on an 11-2 run capped by a Keesha Sarman three-pointer with nine seconds left to cut the lead to 33-18.
Then Union looked like a whole new team in the second half.
The Lady Cats started the third quarter on an 8-0 run to get it to 33-26.
Pilot Rock didn’t score until the 3:04 mark of the period, the only points it could muster in the quarter.
A Sarman three-pointer with 50 seconds to go got it to 35-33, before a short jumper by Sarah Good with six seconds left tied the game for the first time at 35-35.
“I told them to play with confidence and that they can’t give up,” Nicholson said of her halftime speech.
“They had to stay positive.”
A Dani Sturm lay-in a minute into the fourth quarter gave Union its first lead at 37-35.
From there the game was back and forth, with Union taking a three-point lead at 43-40 with two minutes left.
After a Pilot Rock free throw cut it to 43-41, a Madison Dave put back with 1:30 left tied the game at 43-all.
But for every Rocket bucket, the Lady Cats had an answer.
A Sturm lay-in with a minute left in regulation put UHS up 45-43.
Pilot Rock turned the ball over on a traveling violation at the other end, forcing the Rockets to foul Sarman with 27.3 left on the clock.
Sarman hit one-of-two free throws to put Union up 46-43.
Pilot Rock drew a foul on its next possession with 6.8 seconds left, and Dave hit one-of-two attempts, missing the second on purpose.
But on the rebound, Union was rewarded possession on a jump ball call, and the Lady Cats were able to run out the clock to take the Optimist Tournament title.
“Our defense really stepped up.
“We’ve had a lot of games like this, so I think the experience of the previous games really helped,” Nicholson said.
“It was also a lot of team work. There are no Is out there. It took every one of them tonight.”
Sarman finished with a game-high 19 points, while Kaci Langford added eight.
Sturm and Good both chipped in six.
Carsyn Roberts scored four and Amber Fiorito put in three.
The Lady Cats shot 11 of 15 at the free-throw line.
Jessie Doherty led Pilot Rock with 12 points, while Dave finished with nine. Caitlin Zyph chipped in eight, and Britteny Taylor scored six.
The Rockets shot seven of 14 at the charity stripe.
“This is huge for their confidence.
“They know they can play with anybody,” Nicholson said.
Union 42, Imbler 30
After defeating Joseph 61-29 in the tournament opener Thursday, Union had to get through Imbler on Friday.
The Lady Cats had another slow start, trailing 8-2 after the first quarter and 17-16 at halftime.
The game went back and forth throughout the third quarter and was knotted up at 22-22 with 1:13 left. An Elly Wells three-pointer followed by a Sarman lay-in put Union up 27-22.
A Malia Mills jumper from the corner just before the buzzer made it a 27-24 game after three quarters.
The Lady Cats scored five straight points to start the fourth to lead 32-24. A Mills lay-in with 2:50 cut the score to 34-30, but that was as close as Imbler could get it as Union scored the final eight points of the game to advance to the championship.
Sarman scored 21 points, while Good added eight. Sturm and Chelsie Houck both finished with four.
Danika McIntosh led Imbler with 11 points, and Jacey Teeter scored seven. Mills scored six and Emma Bowers chipped in four.