FARMINGTON -- With no lead larger than five points, this girls Class 4 Quarterfinal game figured to go to the wire.
Behind a career night by Jennifer Bowen, the St. James Lady Tigers prevailed with a 51-48 win over the Dexter Lady Bearcats on Saturday at the Farmington Civic Center.
"The bottom line is we just didn't have an answer for Bowen," said Dexter coach Gavin Miller. "We played them this summer and she is, obviously, a gamer."
Bowen, a 5-foot-8 guard bound for the University of North Florida, poured in 33 points to punch the Tigers' second straight ticket to the Final Four in Columbia. They finished third in state last season.
"Jennifer had a huge night for us," said St. James coach Brad Conway.
The Bearcats' heartbreaking finish to a breakthrough season in which they captured their first-ever district title, along with a sectional win, came when a last-gasp shot at the horn failed to find the net.
With the score deadlocked at 38 early in the final quarter, St. James went up 40-38, then jumped on Bowen's shoulders as she tallied the Tigers' final 11 points.
Trailing 43-40 with 3:30 to go, Dexter sophomore Haylee Finch connected to cut the margin to one at 43-42.
Following two Bowen free throws, Finch hit a jumper to again narrow the gap to one at 45-44.
Bowen's off-balance shot in the lane dropped before Rachel Blunt, Dexter's 6-foot senior post and future Southeast Missouri State University Redhawk, scored the last of her team-high 18 points to make it a one-point game at 47-46.
Then, it was the unstoppable Bowen again sending the Tigers up 49-46 with about 54 seconds left.
On the Bearcats next possession, Finch's third down-the-stretch field goal trimmed the lead to one once again at 49-48 with 28 seconds remaining.
But the night belonged to Bowen.
She closed out her personal demolition of the Bearcats with two critical free throws with 20.9 left.
On Dexter's last possession, an out-of-bounds deflection on a near steal disrupted the Bearcats offensive flow, forcing them to inbound with about six seconds on the clock, before the desperation 3-pointer to tie missed the mark.
Miller, who said he wouldn't trade the supporting cast around his superstar, Blunt, for St. James' cast around Bowen, did get better scoring balance.
Behind Blunt's 18, Finch scored 13 points and junior Taylor Nelson added 11, including Dexter's three treys.
"She's going to be a ballplayer," said Miller, of Finch. "I can see her being, down the line, like a Rachel Blunt or a Jennifer Bowen. And I think the world of Taylor Nelson. She's a fine ballplayer. She helps us on the boards and has become a good 3-point shooter late in the season, shooting almost 50 percent.
"I'm just pleased with all of them."
After Bowen, only one other Tiger had more than four points, Whitney Meurer with seven.
In the nip-and-tuck battle featuring six ties and seven lead changes, the Bearcats trailed by two points at the end of the first quarter (12-10), by one at the half (21-20) and by one as the third period expired (36-35).
Dexter, with Blunt coming alive with eight points after a six-point first half with no field goals, probably outplayed St. James in the third quarter. At one point, Dexter held its largest lead of the night at 31-27.
But the Tigers -- 0-for-6 on 2-pointers -- capitalized on red-hot 5-of-8 3-
point shooting to keep pace.
"We went to a zone and kind of slowed her (Bowen) up and other girls started hitting some 3's," said Miller. "It looked like we were catching fire, hitting some 2's, then they'd come back down and drain those 3's and that's the way the night was going."
On the evening, Dexter shot 38 percent (19-of-50) from the field, 25 percent (3-of-12) from behind the arc, while St. James hit 34.6 percent (18-of-52) overall, 38.4 percent (5-of-13) from 3-point range.
Perhaps, more telling, with such a close outcome, was the turnover statistic. Dexter committed eight, good by any standard, but St. James was even better with just four, none in the second half. Two of the Bearcats' turnovers were in the decisive fourth quarter.
"We had turnovers when we were down one on two different possessions and you can't have that at critical points of the game at this time of the season," said Miller.
The future for Dexter, however, with only one senior starter, looks bright.
"The bar's been raised for us," said Miller. "I told them to let this (loss) burn and fuel them during the summer and the offseason. I guarantee you they are going to work hard. I'm not saying we're going to get back to this game, but I just want to make sure Dexter doesn't fall back to where we were just six years ago with four, five or six victories a year.
St. James (24-5), with its second straight three-point quarterfinal win -- the Tigers defeated Cape Girardeau Notre Dame 55-52 in overtime last season -- advances into Friday's state semifinals against Lincoln Prep Academy, a 62
-56 winner over Kansas City Center.