BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON- Sometimes basketball comes down to knowing how to win a 10-second game.
But it took Central Lee and Van Buren all of 32 minutes to know the outcome Tuesday night. Time ran out on the Lady Hawks as Van Buren snuck out of Central Lee High School with a 55-54 win in SEISC South girls action.
With less than 13 seconds left in the game and the Hawks up 54-53, Isabel Manning pulled up for an 8-footer from the right baseline that bounced off the back of the rim. The scramble for the rebound resulted in a foul being called on the Hawks’ Maura Watkins with 4.4. seconds left .
The foul just happened to put Van Buren in the bonus and the Warriors’ Jaelyn Boley calmly slipped two freebies through the net in what would amount to the game-winners.
Central Lee called time out and set up one last play. Van Buren picked up the Hawks early on the inbounds, but Central Lee got the ball into the hands of prolific scorer Mya Merschman.
Merschman raced up the left side and instead of pulling up for a jumper, she saw Ella Sanders in the lane and floated a pass in that was tipped away. Sanders recovered but the buzzer sounded before she could get a shot off.
He said the plan on the inbounds was to get it into Merschman’s hands and let her make a decision at the offensive side.
“Mya was going to bring it and take it as far as she could and either shoot it or pass it. Ella was open, we just didn’t quite get it to her.”
It looked early on like Van Buren might run away with the game jumping out to an 11-3 lead in the first quarter. But the Hawks came rushing back after going 1-9 from the field to start the game.
Out of a time out, sophomore Makayla Morrison scored back-to-back buckets, and then Maura Watkins buried a 3 with Van Buren’s defense smothering Merschman.
Manning would answer with a bucket at the other end, but Merschman would score five unanswered, including a bucket just before the buzzer culminating in a 11-2 run to give Central a 14-13 lead at the end of one.
Senior Ella Sanders, who finished with a season-high 18 points on the night, all 3-pointers, buried one from the right wing to start the second for a 17-13 lead.
Van Buren would close the gap to two twice in the 2nd period and would tie the game at 23 on a bucket by Boley. Merschman and Sanders would hit back to back from long range to push Central’s lead to 25-29 at the half.
Manning would go crazy for 13 points in the 3rd period to lead Van Buren on a 17-10 run through the third and a 43-39 lead going into the final period.
They pushed that lead to eight at 47-39, but Sanders again would hit long from the right baseline. Van Buren’s Zoe Best would convert two free throws for a 49-42 lead before Macy Watkins scored on a drive from the left baseline and Sanders buried another three to cut the lead to four 51-47.
With 3:41 left Sanders hit again to cut the lead to one at 53-52 and then Merschman would score inside to give Central Lee the lead back 54-53 with just :42 left in the game.
A controversial turnover in front of the Central Lee bench that bounced off an official gave Van Buren the ball back, and a flurry of time outs ensued setting up the final possessions.
Baldwin said Sanders played her best game of the year.
“By far the best she’s shot all year, and when she’s hitting it opens up a lot of other things for us,” Baldwin said.
Central Lee also got 10 points from Makayla Morrison. Merschman finished with 20 on the night.
Baldwin said the Lady Hawks have to continue to fight against being one-dimensional with Merschman carrying the bulk of the offense.
“That’s what we’ve been preaching to them. We gotta have everybody. This can’t be a one-man show if you want to go anywhere,” he said.
Manning led Van Buren (8-3, 7-2) with 36 on the night.
Central falls to 6-6 on the year and 5-4 in the SEISC South and travel to Class 3A No. 7 West Burlington (12-0, 9-0) on Friday night.