By DAVID GREEN
It was anything but a calm, restful atmosphere in Morenci’s locker room March 15 in Jackson.
The Bulldogs were playing their first quarterfinal game in nearly 40 years and trailing Athens by six points—eight points until Tia Tompkins hit a bucket at the buzzer.
“It was pretty loud at the half-time break,” said Bulldog coach Tim Yatzek. “We were playing poorly but trailing by only six points.”
Yatzek remembers asking his squad if this is where they wanted it to end, in the Jackson High School field house instead of at MSU’s Breslin Center.
“They responded well,” Yatzek said about the third quarter play. “We started to do the things we needed to do, the things we worked on specifically for Athens.”
Take rebounds, for example. There were times when the Indians notched three and four rebounds on a single possession.
“That’s one of the things we worked on,” Yatzek said, “but we were standing around and trying to out-jump them instead of boxing out.”
It was a more confident Morenci team that took the floor for the second half. Tompkins got an early steal and Matea Garcia scored. Later, Tompkins turned and shot followed by another Athens turnover.
The Bulldogs were slow in their recovery on the scoreboard, but they finally took the lead at 4:15 on a three-pointer from Mercedez McCaskey, and they never gave it up.
A nine-point lead slipped to three, 38-35, at 5:13 in the fourth with Tompkins on the bench after her fourth foul. Athens eventually pulled to within one, 39-38.
McCaskey hit another three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a little breathing space, but it didn’t last long.
With a two-point lead and 2:28 yet to play, the Bulldogs missed two free throws but the Indians still couldn’t come back. Tompkins hit a pair from the line with 1:25 remaining to lead 44-40.
Athens hit a bucket with 39 seconds left and it was up to Brooke Bovee to seal it off with two chances at the line and 10 seconds to play.
She missed her first shot, then missed the second and it was suddenly up to Tompkins to assure a trip to the semifinals. She grabbed the rebound and put it through the hoop for a 46-42 victory.
Bovee, a sophomore, carried the team with her ball handling against the tough Athens defense.
“She played her heart out,” Coach Yatzek said. “She really wanted it.”
Bovee also hit 10 of 14 from the line to finish with 14 points, just behind Tompkins’s 16.