A healthy Central girls basketball team nearly upset Poplar Bluff in district semis

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Central players react to a Poplar Bluff basket near the end of the fourth quarter of their Class 5 District 1 game Tuesday in Jackson. Poplar Bluff won 48-45. (Kristin Eberts)

Central junior Alayah Cooper-Johnson said there was a simple reason why she and her teammates looked like they had some extra energy Tuesday night against Poplar Bluff in a Class 5 District 1 semifinal.

Being healthy can provide that look.

"Since we've been sick, we've been struggling," Cooper-Johnson said. "Everybody was almost 100 percent healthy. We just felt good. We thought we could pull it off. We almost did, but we fell short."

The No. 3 seeded Tigers' upset bid ended with a 48-45 loss to the defending district champions. Central finished the season 14-10.

All but one member of the Central team caught the bug that swept through the school last week.

"We've been under the weather," Central coach Sherri Shirrell said. "We've had the flu, so I was really proud of my kids last week when we played Sikeston because they weren't feeling well, but I think I'm twice as proud tonight at the effort that they gave because we haven't been able to have a full practice since last Tuesday.

"We were out of school for a few days and we came back and everybody was just so wiped out from the fever and whatever the crud is that's going around."

Central raced out to an 8-0 lead to start the game and still led late in the second quarter, but Poplar Bluff scored four points in the final 10 seconds to take a 25-24 lead into the break.

It looked like the Tigers would be wiped out for good in the third quarter when the Mules closed the period on a 12-0 run to take a 41-31 lead.

"They didn't want to go away, and I'm really proud of them for that," Shirrell said.

Central stopped its scoring drought of 5 minute, 58 seconds by scoring the first three points of the fourth quarter. Cooper-Johnson then got the Tigers' comeback started in earnest by forcing a 10-second call.

"That was really big," Shirrell said. "She's a defensive player, and if she gets the ball around the basket she's going to put it in the hole. We look to her to be our defensive stopper, and she did a good job of that tonight."

The Tigers forced eight turnovers in the fourth quarter, which helped them to tie the game at 41-41 with 2:53 to go.

"Teamwork," said Cooper-Johnson when asked what keyed the comeback. "We encouraged each other. We moved the ball, shared it well and got baskets."

Poplar Bluff junior Danielle Farmer broke the tie with a 3-pointer that gave the Mules the lead for good.

Central had several opportunities to draw even.

Poplar Bluff missed the front end of three consecutive one-and-one opportunities at the free-throw line in the final 22 seconds of the game while leading by just a point. The Mules rebounded the first two misses, but Cooper-Johnson was fouled going for the rebound on the third miss.

Cooper-Johnson, who scored eight of her team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, missed the front end of her own one-and-one chance and Poplar Bluff's Sara Eyler made two free throws to give the Mules their final margin of victory.

"We had our opportunity," Shirrell said. "They had their opportunity because we were both on the free-throw line and missed. I have to give them credit, they stepped up and hit that last one."

Poplar Bluff718167--48

CENTRAL (45) -- Allie Hardesty 2, Alayah Cooper-Johnson 15, Bailey Kratochvil 3, Tori Scheller 2, Kadie Orenstein 5, Katie Williams 4, Chelsea Vinson 14. FG 14, FT 16-22, F 16. (3-pointers: Kratochvil 1. Fouled out: none)

POPLAR BLUFF (48) -- Soley Webb 6, Danielle Farmer 18, Sara Eyler 9, Marissa Webb 13, Cassidy Harris 2. FG 19, FT 6-10, F 16. (3-pointers: Farmer 4. Fouled out: none)

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