GREENFIELD — The Cougars saved their best for last.
Unfortunately for them, their best wasn’t good enough.
Anderson held off Greenfield-Central in a wild fourth quarter, prevailing 54-51 in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A Sectional 9 tournament at G-C Tuesday evening.
The Cougars, who entered as 23-point underdogs according to Sagarin ratings, stayed close by packing the paint with a 3-2 zone, inviting the Lady Tribe — the defending sectional champions — to beat them with open jump shots.
The blue and gold also wanted Anderson, shooting 58 percent as a team from the free throw line before Tuesday, to frequent the charity stripe if the game was close.
The plan almost worked.
G-C (8-13) had opportunities to take the lead or tie the game in the final minute, but could not convert.
“We executed our game plan to a tee. We flattened that 3-2 zone and we made them shoot the basketball,” G-C coach Doug Laker said. “We made them go to the foul line at the end.”
“We just ran out of time.”
In Tuesday’s first quarterfinal, Connersville edged Pendleton Heights 32-31 to move on to Friday’s first semifinal vs. Richmond (12-10) at 6 p.m.
Anderson (17-5) advanced to face New Castle (6-14) in Friday’s second semifinal, which will tip at approximately 7:30 p.m.
The semifinal winners will meet in Saturday night’s championship at 7:30 p.m.
After mixing success and failure in the first half, the Lady Tribe’s full-court pressure rankled G-C enough to open up a 12-point margin late in the third quarter.
But, the blue and gold never relented, rallying with an 8-2 run that culminated with back-to-back 3-point plays by Shelby Davis and Sara Jones, the latter of which elicited an enthusiastic fist pump from Laker with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Then, things got interesting in the game’s final moments.
Shortly after Laker called his final timeout with 1:09 left, Shelby Oldham found Regan Lewis for a triple. The Cougars were within two at 52-50, their fans increasing the decibel level in their home gymnasium.
Fouled with 41.4 seconds remaining, Anderson guard Samia Carter was walking to the free-throw line to shoot a one-and-one when her coach, Chad Cook, was whistled for a technical foul.
With the clock stopped, Carter missed the front end of the one-and-one. Then, Lewis hit one of two technical free throws, and the Cougars received the ball down 52-51.
G-C wound the clock down and ended up with an open look from the left block. But, Davis’ floater was short, and Lady Tribe guard Savannah Jones came up with the rebound with 5.4 ticks left.
Jones sank both free throws. Down 54-51, Oldham took the inbounds pass and raced up the left side of the court. The sophomore point guard fired a 3-pointer just before the horn, but it fell short.
“Shelby’s shot at the end or Davis’ shot at the end — we didn’t panic,” offered Laker, whose team finished under .500 for the second time in his five seasons at G-C. “We got good looks. We did good things. I wish the outcome was different, but we did great things.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the community. I thought we were going to pull it off.”
Anderson finished 7-of-18 (39 percent) from the foul line and survived what Laker termed the Cougars’ “best game.”
“Even when (Anderson) went up double figures, I knew that they struggled on the foul line. If we could just keep it under 13, 14 points and keep it right there, I knew that they would…not so much choke, but I thought they would feel the pressure,” said Laker of the Lady Tribe, who played in four games decided by five points or less before Tuesday. “They haven’t been in a lot of close games.
“I knew that if we got them in a close game, the pressure would mount on them.”
An unpredictable squad all season, G-C started 1-5, then improved to 7-10 before dropping three of four to end the regular season, falling by an average of 14 points.
The Cougars were dealt a tough blow a few weeks before the season when senior Katie Peters, who was in the top 10 in six Hancock County statistical categories during the 2011-12 campaign, elected to focus on her upcoming soccer career at Indiana University.
Laker said his young squad had a tough time adjusting early on, but pointed to his team’s defensive commitment Tuesday night as evidence of its development.
“We played a defense we haven’t really played all year — a 3-2 defense — and they stuck with the game plan,” he said. “I think they believed in what we were saying. I know they did. That’s what you ask your kids to do.”
Davis and Jones, G-C’s two seniors, both delivered solid performances in their final game.
It was Jones who scored seven of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter to keep the Cougars close. Jones was effective around the rim, diving in behind defenders and was on the receiving end of five of Oldham’s game-high nine assists.
Davis did a little bit of everything, finishing with five points, three assists and a game-best six rebounds.
Oldham and Lewis — both sophomores — as well as junior guard Emily Koers will return as the Cougars’ core next winter. Sophomore guard Brooke Bell, freshman guard Savannah Girolami and junior pivot Savannah Hart also saw extended varsity time.
G-C will also receive additional depth from a JV team that finished 14-6 in 2012-13.
“I think our program is OK right now. I want to raise it a notch,” Laker offered. “A way to raise it a notch is to get better team chemistry, better team balance, and it’s all led by me. It’s on my shoulders. It’s my program.”
Laker believes the program still needs more of a can-do attitude day in and day out, regardless of the opponent.
“We have to believe we’re going to win these games instead of going, ‘I think we can beat them.’ We have to go into this game knowing we’re going to win, and that’s tough to do,” he said. “That’s really tough to do. That’s a lot of buy-in, and hopefully we’ll get kids to buy in for the total thing and see what happens.”
Notes: G-C shot 18-of-44 from the field (41 percent). Anderson was 22-of-51 (43 percent). … The Cougars had 21 turnovers. … Chelsea Bentley paced the Lady Tribe with 13 points. … The Sectional 9 victor meets the winner of Sectional 12 in the Decatur Central regional on Feb. 16.
Class 4A Sectional 9 Quarterfinal at G-C
Anderson 54, Greenfield-Central 51
GC — Oldham 0-7 3-4 3, Lewis 5-8 1-2 12, Koers 2-3 5-7 9, Jones 8-12 2-3 19, Davis 2-9 0-1 5, Bell 0-2 0-0 0, Girolami 1-3 1-3 3, Hart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals — 18-44 12-20 51.
AN — Bentley 5-11 1-1 13, Carter 2-5 0-3 4, Boyd 2-4 0-0 4, Thompson 2-7 1-2 6, Gosha 1-2 0-0 2, Rayford 0-3 0-0 0, Potts 2-6 1-2 5, Jones 0-3 3-6 3, Dickerson 5-7 1-4 11, Williams 3-3 0-0 6. Totals — 22-51 7-18 51.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
GC (8-13) 9 10 12 20 — 51
AN (17-5) 12 20 9 13 — 54
Three-pt. field goals: GC 3-12 (Oldham 0-1, Lewis 1-2, Jones 1-2, Davis 1-4, Bell 0-2, Girolami 0-1), AN 3-16 (Bentley 2-5, Carter 0-1, Boyd 0-2, Thompson 1-5, Rayford 0-2, Jones 0-1.
Rebounds: GC 20 (Oldham 2, Lewis 3, Koers 5, Jones 4, Davis 6), AN 29 (Bentley 3, Boyd 5, Thompson 2, Gosha 6, Rayford 3, Potts 5, Jones 2, Dickerson 5). Assists: 14 (Oldham 9, Koers 2, Davis 3), AN 8 (Bentley 1, Carter 2, Thompson 1, Rayford 1, Jones 2, Williams 1). Steals: GC 6 (Lewis 1, Koers 2, Jones 1, Davis 1, Girolami 1), AN 13 (Bentley 1, Carter 2, Boyd 1, Thompson 1, Gosha 2, Rayford 1, Jones 1, Dickerson 3, Williams 1). Blocks: GC 0, AN 2 (Gosha 1, Dickerson 1). Total fouls: GC 15, AN 20. Fouled out: None. Turnovers: GC 21, AN 14.