Gunter survives to reach the region semifinals
PARIS — The Lady Tigers could feel the game slipping through their fingers after a tight grip on it for nearly three quarters.
It was a stretch you might come to expect at this point in the playoffs. The opponents get better. The pressure feels heavier.
And as Gunter had its lead whittled to a single point in the middle of the fourth quarter, it found a way to block out all the negatives — Edgewood’s pesky defense, foul trouble, a hard time hearing play calls from the bench.
“There were a lot of challenges,” Gunter head coach Katie Stinton said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game.”
Instead the Lady Tigers reached down for a final stand and a big shot — a three-pointer by Lindsay Esnard — to help Gunter hold off Edgewood, 49-37, in a Class 3A Region II quarterfinal at Paris High School.
“We played a pretty tough schedule to prepare for these moments,” Stinton said. “There were times in the regular season we hadn’t handled them very well. We made it a point to go back and watch the video so we would be prepared.”
Gunter (25-5) will face either Chapel Hill or Mount Vernon in region semifinals. It is the first appearance in the fourth round for the program since 2002.
Sarah Putnicki had 20 points, Alyssa Tarpley added 12 points, Blakely Esnard totaled eight points and Lindsay Esnard chipped in seven points for the Lady Tigers, who have won 13 straight games.
Kaley Nicholson scored 12 points and Clara Pool chipped in 10 points for Edgewood (23-4), which had an 18-game winning streak snapped.
It was the 11th straight game Gunter held an opponent under 40 points and the Lady Tigers wanted to use their size advantage with Putnicki, Rhyan Pogue — who grabbed nine rebounds — and Reagan Andres. But Putnicki picked up her third foul with 50 seconds to go in the second quarter and Gunter had to play the final 5:12 without Taylor Boddie, its best defender, after she was disqualified.
“Foul trouble was a huge problem for us,” Stinton said. “We’re just glad to be moving on to the regional tournament.”
Edgewood opened the fourth on a 10-0 run and had a chance to pull even at the end of the surge, thanks in part to forcing seven turnovers compared to the 11 by Gunter through three quarters. Keeley Randle went to the line with 4:20 left and the opportunity to tie the game at 32. She made the first but missed the second.
When Lindsay Esnard hit a three from the left side 16 seconds later, it felt much bigger than the four-point margin on the scoreboard because the Lady Bulldogs were never in position to tie or take the lead again.
“That was the biggest shot of the game,” Stinton said.
Gunter scored its final 14 points at the line as the Lady Bulldogs tried to extend the game. Putnicki made 9-of-10 to go with three by Blakely Esnard and one each from Tarpley and Lindsay Esnard, the latter making it a three-possession game with 1:14 left after Nicholson hit a three-pointer for a six-point deficit.
The shot was the only basket by Edgewood in the last 5:57 — its six other points the rest of the way came at the line.
Blakely Esnard beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer right in front of the Gunter bench for a 32-21 lead.
It was the only basket by the Lady Tigers in the final 6:28 of the frame after she and Pogue had buckets for a 29-15 advantage coming out the break.
The scoring drought was just as bad for Edgewood, which managed only six points in the quarter.
Gunter widened the gap to double digits at half-time by holding the Lady Bulldogs to eight points in the second quarter and just one made shot in the six minutes before the break.
Edgewood started the stanza strong as Nicholson came up with a steal and layin before Addison Prater made two free throws and the Lady Bulldogs were down just 13-11.
The Lady Tigers ended the half with a 12-4 burst. Lindsay Esnard hit a three-pointer to answer one by Prater and then Tarpley connected from long range with 18 seconds showing for the 25-15 lead.
Lindsay Esnard’s three accounted for the only points in the first half not scored by Putnicki and Tarpley, who each scored 11.
Edgewood jumped to the quick 5-1 lead behind Pool as the Lady Tigers managed only a Putnicki free throw in the first three-and-a-half minutes.
Putnicki tied the game at six with a three-point play and Tarpley’s three from the left wing with 1:31 remaining in the quarter put Gunter in front to stay on the way to an 11-7 advantage at the end of the first.
Class 3A Region II