“We got the last shot, and that’s the most important one to make.”
That’s how North East coach Terry Frontino frames Tori Prather’s hook shot with less than 25 seconds remaining on the clock that gave the Lady Grapepickers a precarious 37-36 lead over General McLane in the District 10 championship.
Prather, who led North East with 11 points, added a free-throw with just over 6 seconds remaining to give North East the 38-36 win — and the school’s second District 10 championship — Saturday night at McComb Fieldhouse.
“We got a good lead. We let it slip away, but we played with a lot of heart at the end,” Frontino said.
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North East (22-3) trailed, 7-5, after the first quarter, but outscored McLane, 14-11, in the second to claim a slim 29-28 edge at the half. Lexie Bowen’s layup extended the lead to 10 points, 33-23, with 1:45 left in the third quarter, which the Pickers won, 16-10.
But McLane refused to yield and opened the final frame with an 8-0 run punctuated by a 3-pointer by Katie Rodrigues that put the Lancers on top, 36-35. Rodrigues paced McLane with 11 points.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to delay the game,” Frontino said of the over 7-minute scoring drought. “We broke down a little bit in the fourth quarter; they had two open shots and they made both of them because we were trying to do too much. No doubt about it, they’re a very good team.
And evenly matched, too. McLane (22-3) won both regular-season games against North East, 42-37 and 44-43 – a difference of 6 total points. North East’s other loss was 68-60 in overtime to Class AAA Franklin.
Frontino had praise for every player who contributed to the victory. “You can go through the lineup, and in one way or another, the players did what they had to do to squeeze out a victory. These are great kids and they all played their best basketball,” Frontino said.
“This group has worked so hard from the 7th grade. This (championship) has been their goal for all these years.”
Frontino also praised McLane for its strong effort. “They’re just great shooters. We played them three times this year and they were shooting 40 percent every game,” he said. “We just beat a great basketball team.”
In addition to scoring a team-high 11 points, Prather collected 8 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1 steal.
Alex Artise, who sat out most of the 3rd quarter and part of the 4th quarter due to foul trouble, scored 6 points, had 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal. Anné Lewis recorded 7 points, 3 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 assists; Leah Kowalewski scored 6 points, had 4 steals and 9 rebounds; Lexi Bowen had 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Danielle Barnes, who filled in for Artise, contributed 2 points and 2 rebounds.
As a team, the Pickers shot 39 percent, 47 percent from two-point shots and 18% for three-pointers.
North East assistant coach Dawn (Page) Turiczek, a member of the 1986 team that won the District title, provided a little added incentive for the players. “At the last practice I wore my D-10 shirt, showed it off a little. My daughter wore it to bed,” she said. “They know how to play, and they knew how to get it done.”
“It’s indescribable,” Turiczek said of being part of the school’s two girls’ district titles.
That first team, whose key players also included Sarah Langowski, Jessica Martin, Traci Beckes, Carolyn O’Leary and Maria Puccio, were coached by Dick Gregg, advanced to the Western quarterfinals and finished with an overall 26-5 mark.
The girls’ team reached the District 10 title game four other seasons — two more under Gregg and two under Dave Murphy.