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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Dexter girls lose heartbreaker, 50-49

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Dexter's Rachel Blunt tries to keep the ball away from Notre Dame's Sierra Ellis.
CAPE GIRARDEAU - With the Dexter Lady Bearcats trailing 24-5 after one quarter of play, impartial fans lingering from the previous boys district title game started making their way to the exits.

What they missed was perhaps the most thrilling finish in a girls game this season on Friday night at Notre Dame High School.

Second-seeded Dexter rallied from their huge deficit only to fall in the final seconds to top-seeded Notre Dame 50-49 in the Class 4, District 1 championship game.

Notre Dame (19-8) moves on to play North County at Mineral Area College in Park Hills on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

It makes eight straight district championships for Notre Dame, but this year's was by far the closest they had come to being defeated.

"This one feels great," said Notre Dame head coach Jerry Grim. "These kids have worked awfully hard this year. It hadn't been a snap like it has been in the year's past. But they worked hard and they deserved it."

Dexter, which has never won a district championship, finishes its season at 19-8.

But championship number one almost happened on Friday.

Down 50-48, Lady Bearcat senior guard Hannah Burleson was fouled with 10 seconds left. She made the first, but missed the second only to see her teammates force a jumpball off the rebound.

The possession arrow pointed to Notre Dame with nine seconds remaining. After burning its final timeout on a failed attempt to get the ball inbounds, Notre Dame had trouble again as a Sierra Ellis pass was intercepted by Natalie Hayes.

Chaos ensued in the final nine seconds as Hayes was quickly surrounded by Notre Dame. She passed to Burleson near the right sideline, who was subsequently swarmed herself by the Lady Bulldog defense.

Burleson had to pass back to Hayes, but with the clock ticking down quickly, she couldn't find a shot.

With two seconds left, she then passed back to Burleson, who was 22-feet out on the right wing and not in a position to shoot. With no time left she forced up an off-balanced prayer that banked off the backboard and didn't draw iron.

"It was chaotic because that's what Notre Dame does," said Dexter head coach Gavin Miller. "They're flying all over the court and making it very difficult to get anything. Had we gotten away from that sideline and gotten it to an open person -- it's just tough to see the court like that. The Basketball Gods weren't with us tonight."

They certainly weren't with them in the first quarter as Notre Dame broke away with a 16-0 run to close period, leading 24-5.

Notre Dame led by as much as 28-8 early in the second quarter before Dexter slowly began chipping away at the lead.

"Every time I come into this gymnasium my girls seem to be a little shell-shocked early," said Miller. "Sometimes it takes a quarter -- tonight it took a quarter and a half. I thought we played well the last three minutes of the first half and that rolled over into halftime."

The Lady Bearcats got the lead down to 14 on two different occasions before settling for a 32-16 deficit at halftime.

Dexter trailed by double figures through most of the third quarter before rallying in the final two minutes, closing the period on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 40-34 heading into the fourth.

"They made a game of it," said Grim. "We let them back in the game in the second half. We came in the second half shooting 3s and that's not what we're all about. We weren't making them and they were getting the rebound and when you do that you're headed for trouble."

For most of the fourth quarter the Lady Bearcats couldn't get over the hump.

But a missed shot by Notre Dame led to a fastbreak for Dexter as Hayes scored a short bank-shot to tie the game at 46-46 with 1:55 left.

"Shot by shot and every stop by stop of Notre Dame, we kept feeling that we could get back into this thing," said Miller.

Notre Dame managed to extend the lead to 49-46 with 53 seconds left. Two free throws by Dexter's Charlotte Johnson cut the lead to 49-48 with 28 seconds left.

An Ellis free throw with 18 seconds left set up the final sequence in which Burleson was fouled.

Dexter out-scored Notre Dame 44-26 after the first quarter.

"You won't believe this, but I told the girls in the gym today that we'd have the ball down one with 12 seconds to go -- and we got it back with nine," said Miller. "I believed we were going to win this game. If I don't coach that way I'm cheating my student-athletes."

Dexter 6-foot junior Rachel Blunt did most of the damage, scoring several baskets down the stretch and grabbing many rebounds.

"(Blunt) is a player -- she is a legitimate player," said Grim. "We honestly could not stop her."

She finished with a team-high 17 points.

"I've never seen a girl like her," said Miller. "She's in the gym at 7 in the morning and she still is four months later. She works harder than anybody I know. I guarantee you there's not someone here at Notre Dame that puts in the time on their own like Rachel does. She wanted to put us on her shoulders. She wanted that tonight."

Notre Dame was led by Sommer McCauley's 15 points, despite battling foul problems for most of the night. Katie Palmer added 10 points. Ellis was held to nine points.

Miller was pleased with his team's defense on McCauley and Ellis.

"The key there is just blocking them out and always having a hand in their face," said Miller. "They might say they had a bad night shooting, but I'd like to say it was our defense."

Dexter also got 10 points out of Hayes. No other player reached double figures.

"We're making progress," said Miller. "This is going to bode well for us next year. Really, the last three or four minutes of the game I had four underclassmen on the court. So that's great experience for them."