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The hosts were from a picture of composure during the final six minutes of Monday’s Rich South Galaxy semifinal against Bloom.
The Stars made turnovers. Missed field goals. Missed free throws.
With 22 seconds left, however, and a 13-point lead carved down to one, CiErra Garrett was money. She hit a pair of free throws that made the ultimate difference in a 53-51 victory that launches the Stars (4-0) into Wednesday’s title game against Hillcrest.
Tierney Garrett had 15 points, DeAsia Garrett 10, CiErra Garrett nine and Dasia Evans eight points and nine rebounds for Rich South.
Bloom (3-1) was paced by Danielle King (16 points), Bria Gaines (11 points, 9 rebounds), Mariah Middleton (11 points) and Katherine Strong (9 points, 11 rebounds).
The Stars were seemingly in control at 49-36 after Lockett’s fourth 3-pointer with 5:59 remaining. The lead was still at 11 with just 5:01 left after Middleton grabbed a loose ball and went in for a layup for the Blazing Trojans.
But things happened fast from there. The Stars, rushing the ball downcourt, would be unsuccessful on eight consecutive possessions. Twice they missed the front end of 1-and-1s. Gaines, who had just four points at the half, caught a spark for Bloom and scored two baskets, the second of which made it 49-46 with 1:42 showing.
DeAsia Garrett hit two free throws to get the lead back up to five, but the Stars, not taking advantage of having three fouls to give in the last minute, allowed the Blazing Trojans to fast-break. With 25 seconds showing, a layup by Strong made it 51-50.
“I’ll take the blame on that,” South coach Brian Mays said. “I didn’t tell them early enough about team fouls. As far as our offense, we didn’t want to stall, but we also didn’t want to come down and take quick shots. That’s where we showed a lack of big-game experience.”
Until, at least, CiErra Garrett stepped up at the line with 22 ticks remaining.
“I just took the first free throw as the one that counted for the moment,” Garrett said.
Bloom had a chance to tie with three seconds remaining when Middleton went to the line to shoot three, but made only the middle toss.
Hillcrest 44, Lincoln-Way North 34: Mariam Awoniyi’s back-to-back put-backs at the end of the first half steadied the Hawks (3-0), who are aiming at eight straight Galaxy titles.
Tanzania Sherrill paced a balanced Hillcrest attack with 11 points. Dana Gettis added nine, Awoniyi eight, Lorielle Little seven and Shayla Joyner six. Awoniyi added seven rebounds and Little six, while Gettis copped six steals.
Valen Manns (10 points, 5 rebounds), Ellen Graham (7 rebounds) and Sam Pietruszynski (8 points) paced Lincoln-Way North (2-1).
The Hawks had early problems shaking the Phoenix, which used 3-pointers by Pietruszynski, Manns and Ashley Weringa to stay close. It was 20-19 Hillcrest with 1:01 left in the half when consecutive trips downcourt resulted in Awoniyi put-backs.
“I just felt a sense of urgency as a senior,” Awoniyi said. “I’m supposed to take the lead there.”
North’s outside shooting success eroded in the second half, and in the fourth period Hillcrest went on a 10-2 run to ease away