The Lady Cougars eked out a 41-39 win against Clover Friday night.
It all came down to the fourth quarter.
With 1:05 left in the game and the home-standing Lady Cougars clinging to a 38-37 lead, Corri Peeler converted a free throw, pushing the lead to 39-37.
Then York’s Makala Love milked the clock. The sophomore guard’s free throw with 25.3 ticks left expanded York’s lead to 40-37.
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After Clover freshman guard Kerrington Barnes converted a pair of free throws, the lead was 40-39.
Love was fouled as soon as she touched the ball and was true on another free throw, pushing York’s lead back to 41-39 with 16.4 seconds left.
The Lady Cougars held on for the win.
Sophomore Emalee Smith’s defensive pressure had a big effect on the game.
“That’s what Emalee is out there for, to play defense,” said head coach Paula Blackwell. “Emalee does a great job. She had been studying film on Clover.”
Blackwell lauded the play of other Lady Cougars.
“Meg McGarity hit some huge shots,” said Blackwell. “She also knew when not to take that shot and work the clock. Makala Love had 10 rebounds and only one turnover.”
Blackwell also said Carrie Lee Lancaster sealed the win with two big offensive rebounds off missed free throws.
“She took away two opportunities for them to score,” said Blackwell.
She referenced Akeisha McClure’s 12 rebounds.
“I thought our speed showed. We were able to use our speed in the open floor,” Blackwell said.
The Lady Cougars built a 13-9 first-quarter lead, with Lancaster, McClure and power forward Heather Pumphrey providing the offensive punch.
The Lady Blue Eagles began to play catch up in the second quarter, building a 23-16 lead late in the quarter.
It appeared Clover might expand the lead, possibly to double-digits.
But McGarity had other ideas, converting a pair of three-point shots and sending the teams to the locker room with Clover’s lead at 23-21.
The third quarter was much of the same, with several lead changes igniting the crowd on both sides.
McGarity, who led the scoring for York with 15 points, continued showcasing her long-range shooting, nailing two three-pointers in the third quarter.
Love’s basket in the final seconds pushed York ahead 31-30. A basket by Clover’s Autumn Case put the Lady Blue Eagles back on top 32-31 as the third quarter drew to a close.
Though the rest of the game was closely-contested, York never relinquished its lead.
Lancaster, a senior who began varsity play in the eighth grade, said she was elated after the game.
“It was great; it was amazing,” said Lancaster. “It was altogether a team effort to beat Clover.”
Lancaster added: “We felt it was gonna be one of those nights for our coaches. They believe in us and we believe in each other. And we did it.”
Smith talked about her defensive presence. “I take pride in playing defense, and gave it my best tonight,” she said.
Asked if stamina becomes a factor, Smith replied, “I play sports year-round. Conditioning is not a problem.”
Blackwell said the win over Clover is special.
“I told the players before the game we hadn’t beaten Clover since about 2011,” she said. “We wanted to get back on the other side of that. The kids are happy, but they want more.”
Blackwell said it was a great game, a close game, back and forth. She also cherishes her friendship with Clover head coach Sherer Hopkins, who returned to coaching last fall after treatment for a brain tumor.
“The Clover kids play with a lot of heart for coach Hopkins, with what she has overcome,” said Blackwell. “She’s a dear friend of mine. I looked down there several times. It’s just a game. Her life is so much more precious than who won the York-Clover game.”