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Central trims Jackson 49-48 to reach championship game of Holiday Classic girls basketball tournament
Central senior Bailey Kratochvil was hoping to atone for a crucial mistake.
Did she ever.
Kratochvil drove the length of the court for a layup with 2.8 seconds left, lifting the Tigers to a pulsating 49-48 win over Jackson in Thursday night's semifinals of the Kelso Supply Holiday Classic.
The basket moved the second-seeded Tigers into Saturday's finals of the 17th annual girls basketball tournament at the Show Me Center for the first time since 2002. Central has never won the championship.
"We're pretty excited about being in the championship," Central senior Alayah Cooper-Johnson said. "Cape Central hasn't been in it in a long time."
It didn't look like the Tigers (6-2) would make it this time either as third-seeded, defending champion Jackson (5-5) led virtually all the way.
Central finally forged the night's first tie at 47-47 on Kratochvil's driving layup with 13 seconds remaining.
Then, inexplicably, Kratochvil fouled Jackson senior Danielle Daume on the inbound pass with 10 seconds left. The Indians were in the double bonus.
"I don't know what I was thinking," a sheepish Kratochvil said.
Daume, who had hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute to try and hold off Central, made 1 of 2 this time as the Indians went back ahead 48-47.
Jackson coach Tyler Abernathy called a timeout to set up his defense.
Kratochvil took the inbound pass and dribbled through several defenders before finding an open path to the basket. She kissed the ball off the glass for just Central's second lead of the game.
All Jackson could do was fire up a half-court shot that didn't come close as the Tigers erupted.
"I was just trying to make up for my mistake," said Kratochvil, who added that she had never before hit such a game-winning basket. "I just took it all the way."
Kratochvil said she had an option of trying to find Cooper-Johnson, Central's top scorer, down low but elected to take matters into her own hands.
Central coach Sherri Shirrell had no problem with the decision.
"That's a senior stepping up for us," Shirrell said.
Said Abernathy: "We made her go the length of the floor, but we didn't make her give up the ball."
Abernathy lamented the Indians' failure to put more distance between themselves and Central, whose only other lead was 9-8 early in the second quarter.
"We had opportunities to take control but we didn't value the ball. We turned it over too much," Abernathy said.
The Indians led 24-17 at halftime and pushed the advantage to 28-17 early in the third quarter. But the Tigers would not go away.
Central, down 35-29 after three quarters, fell behind 38-31 and 40-33 in the final period but kept on coming.
Johnson's follow shot with 1:55 left cut the deficit to 42-41 and Jackson could not build the lead beyond three points, setting the stage for the wild finish.
"We have to come out stronger in the first half. That's kind of been our theme," Shirrell said. "We came out better in the second half."
Cooper-Johnson, averaging more than 20 points per game, was a focus of Jackson's defense all night and was held to just seven points through three quarters.
"She's having a very good year. We have to expect that," Shirrell said of teams trying to limit Cooper-Johnson's offense.
But Cooper-Johnson stuck with it and scored 10 fourth-quarter points to finish with a team-high 17. She had six points in the final two minutes to keep the Tigers close.
"It was a battle tonight," Cooper-Johnson said. "I just had to fight through it and help my team get this win."
Junior Kadie Orenstein added 13 points for the Tigers. She scored eight third-quarter points, including seven straight during a 9-0 Central run that sliced a 28-17 Jackson led to 28-26.
Daume paced the Indians with 18 points.
Central will try for its first Kelso Supply Holiday Classic title when it faces fourth-seeded Saxony Lutheran at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
"It's really exciting," Kratochvil said.
Jackson will face top-seeded Notre Dame at 3 p.m. Saturday for third place.
JACKSON (48) -- Cassidi Tomsu 8, Rachel Crites 4, Emily Davidson 5, Danielle Daume 18, Megan Williams 7, Kayla Keith 6. FG 16, FT 13-17, F 11. (3-pointers: Daume 3. Fouled out: none)
CENTRAL (49) -- Alayah Cooper-Johnson 17, Kelly Morton 2, Bailey Kratochvil 6, Kadie Orenstein 13, Kassidy Pannier 7, Katie Williams 4. FG: 20, FT: 7-10, F: 17. (3-pointers: Orenstein 1, Pannier 1. Fouled out: none.)