HANNIBAL - It was Senior Night at River High School on Monday as the Pilots girls played host to state-ranked Bridgeport in a battle of the top two teams in OVAC Class 2A.
But it was a Bulldogs senior that stole the show.
Maclaine Murad poured in 26 points, including a 13 of 18 effort from the free throw line, as Bridgeport moved to 14-0 with a thrilling 57-54 victory inside the Potts Gymnasium.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 14 with a little more than 2 minutes to go and by 12 with a little more than a minute remaining before a barrage of River 3-pointers made the game close.
Jensen Caretti had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but her 3-point attempt missed as the horn sounded.
"It's really good,'' Bridgeport head coach Rob Zitzelsberger said. "I don't know how many years it's been since we've beaten River two times in a row.
"They have quality team and when you play quality teams you have to play well.
"We had a 12-point lead and then (River) made a couple of physical steals and we didn't take care of the basketball and had a couple of bad passes and they got hot with some 3-pointers."
Did they ever.
Just when it looked like the Bulldogs were going to run away with things the Pilots had other ideas.
Leading 53-39, Haylee Bowers, who finished with a team-high 21 points, hit a pair of free throws to make the score 53-41.
Moments later, Landyn Ramsay canned a trey with 1:03 left that made the score 53-44. Then, Bowers hit a 3 of her own to make the score 53-47.
Caitlyn Kroll hit the second of two free throws to make the score 54-47, but Bowers came right back with a layup that tightened the score at 54-49 with 29.7 seconds remaining.
Kroll was again fouled on Bridgeport's ensuing possession and, again, made one free throw to make the score 55-49. Ramsay responded with her third 3-pointer of the fourth quarter to draw the Pilots to within two at 54-52 with 19.3 seconds left.
Following a River timeout, Murad was fouled with 16.3 seconds left. She made one of two free throws, making the score 56-52. The Bulldogs grabbed the rebound after Murad missed the second free throw, but turned the ball over. Caretti was fouled and made both free throws, making the score 56-54 with 12.8 ticks remaining.
Murad committed a turnover on Bridgeport's ensuing possession and immediately fouled River's Devyn Potts. Potts missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 7.6 seconds left and Kroll grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Kroll made the second of two free throws, giving the Bulldogs a 3-point lead with 6.9 seconds left.
With one last chance to tie, River (9-5) inbounded the ball, which eventually made its way to Caretti. She dribbled to the right side of the floor and launched a 3-pointer which missed and Kroll grabbed the board to end the game.
"Bridgeport's a nice team and they have nice players," River head coach Rick Isaly said. "We had our chances, but just couldn't do it."
Zitzelsberger was pleased with how his squad stayed mentally tough in the closing moments.
"When you're 13-0, now 14-0, you have to find a way to win," he said. "You have to step up and Murad stepped up.
"She was big, really big. She was going to beat herself up for making that bad pass at the end, but we found a way to win."
Bridgeport wouldn't have been in it without Murad, who hit three 3-pointers, including one as the first-half buzzer sounded giving the Bulldogs a 28-22 lead. During the second half, she only had one field goal, but was 12 of 16 from the line. Twice she was fouled shooting a 3 and was 6 of 6 from the charity stripe in those instances.
Amber Millard and Kroll, who played well at both ends despite being a bit under the weather, both scored 10.
Zitzelsberger praised both Kroll and Briana Massey for the job they did defensively on Caretti, who scored 16 points.
"I don't know what she had, but she didn't score 32 or 40 so you have to shut her down to win," he said. "She's a pretty good ball player and you have to pay attention to her.
"We wanted to make her work for her baskets. We didn't give her any easy ones. In the first half, she got a few lobs on us and in the second half we kind of took that away.
"If they make their outside shots, it's tough to defend her inside because, 1-on-1, I don't know if anyone can keep up with her because she can jump like crazy. Our strategy is if you can keep her under 20 you have a chance to win."
Bowers helped pick up some of the slack.
"That's one of the best games she played all year," Isaly said. "She did a good job the whole game for us penetrating. She kept us in the game during the first half."
Ramsay finished with 12 points.
"I told the girls before the game that no matter what happened, if we're up or down, I wanted them to keep playing hard," Isaly said. "After the game, I told them that, even though we didn't win, we didn't give up.
"There's a good chance we might face them two more times - in the OVAC (Tournament) and the districts. We need confidence we can beat this team and we do have that now. They beat the first time by nine and (Monday) by three. We can beat this team. We just need to play four quarters."
River managed a split by capturing the reserve game.
BRIDGEPORT (57) - Kroll 3, 4-8 10; B.Massey 1, 1-2 3; Murad 5, 13-18 26; Smolenak 2 2-2 8; Millard 4, 2-3 10; Renzler 0, 0-0 0. Totals: 15, 22-33 57. RIVER (54) - Goudy 1, 0-0 3; Ramsay 4, 1-2 12; A.Caldwell 1, 0-0 2; Potts 0 0-1 0; Bowers 8, 4-9 21; Marshall 0, 0-0 0; Caretti 5, 6-6 16. Totals: 18, 11-18 54.
3-Point Goals: Murad 3, Smolenak 2; Ramsay 3, Goudy, Bowers.
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