(Photo by Lance Hanlin, Staff)
The Lady Hawks' last district title came in 1994.
"We're just as excited as we can be," said Kelly head coach Rod McQuerter. "We told the girls yesterday that we wanted to practice on Friday, and now, we're going to practice on Friday. The girls have played like this all year long. They win games on heart."
Kelly's final four points of the game came on free throws by Cara Scherer. With 2.8 seconds left on the clock, and the score tied 44-44, the senior forward sank two pressure-packed foul shots.
Charleston was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer, giving Kelly the victory.
"I love when you put seniors in pressure situations," said McQuerter. "They come through because they've been through the battles. Cara, Dana Essner, Andrea Kluesner, Natalie Scherer, Julia Vetter and Christy Kluesner have all been through the battles, and they all made big plays tonight when they had the chance."
Charleston put up a courageous fight, leading most of the way. Early foul trouble caught up with the Lady Bluejays though as post players Missy Whitney (6-0) and Shytoria Davis (6-1) fouled out in the fourth quarter.
"I'm not going to say the referees cost us the game," said Charleston head coach Brent Anderson, "but it's just amazing how we don't get calls. Our two big girls foul out on some fouls that are very questionable in my opinion. (Kelly) pressed us for four full quarters, and we out-fouled them. I just don't get that."
Charleston outscored Kelly 10-8 in the first period and increased its lead to 25-22 at halftime.
The Lady Hawks rallied in the third period behind Kelly Essner, who buried a 3-pointer and sank 4-of-4 free throws to give Kelly a 37-36 lead heading into the final frame.
"Kelly executes so well, Rod does a super job with those girls," said Anderson. "They really understand how to play. I don't want to take anything away from them. They won this district championship and they deserve it. Sometimes you just wish some of the breaks would go your way, but it seems like they never do. That's just part of it. Congratulations to Kelly."
With 2:06 left in the game, Charleston's Gina Johnson hit a 3-pointer to put the Lady Bluejays up 43-42. Davis fouled out on the next possession, then under a minute later, Whitney fouled out on an over-the-back call.
Scherer hit both free throws to put Kelly up 44-43. With 18.9 seconds left, Fleater Quinn tied the score with a free throw, then with 2.8 ticks left, Scherer was fouled by Lesley Hall.
Scherer sank both foul shots, giving Kelly the victory.
"Charleston has an outstanding basketball team," said McQuerter. "I knew coming in we would have a very tough time holding Dre-Elle Mathis, who is an outstanding player, and Missy Whitney, who in my opinion is one of the best players in the area."
Whitney led Charleston with 15 points. The Lady Hawks were led by Dana Essner with 12.
Kelly will be back in action on Wednesday night, playing the winner of tonight's Doniphan-Twin Rivers game at the Black River Coliseum in Poplar Bluff.
"We're very excited to play on Wednesday," said McQuerter. "It's just exciting to see these girls rewarded for the hard work they put in every game and every day practice."