Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) - Sitka star senior point guard Tawny Smith drove the lane with under 20 seconds remaining to play in the Lady Wolves semifinal game against the Monroe Rams, split the defense to draw a foul but went down with a knee injury and the score tied 31-31.
Sitka junior Marina Olney-Miller shot Smith’s free throws, making both to ice a 33-31 win and earn a berth in Saturday’s ASAA/First National Bank March Madness Alaska 3A Girls Basketball State Championship game.
The Lady Wolves led the game throughout, withstanding full and half court man-to-man pressure from the Rams only to have the win tarnished by Smith’s injury.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Sitka coach Mindy Bartolaba said after the game. “We have had to play a series before with her (Smith) out and the girls did well but we’ll see how this fares for us tomorrow.”
Sitka opened the game with four turnovers under the Monroe press but the Rams could not capitalize from the field against the Sitka two-three zone directed by Smith on top and slowly the Lady Wolves put points on the board.
Senior Chloe Morrison hit inside for the game’s first points midway through the first quarter, sophomore Maitlin Young connected on a pair of free throws, junior Ava Brady scored inside, Morrison hit a free throw and Young hit a short jump shot for a 9-0 lead.
Monroe would get their first basket with 55 seconds remaining on a basket inside by junior Sophia Stepovich.
Morrison added two more free throws for an 11-2 Sitka lead after eight minutes.
Young opened the second quarter with a shot past the arc for Sitka and Stepovich answered inside for Monroe.
Young hit another shot past the arc for a 17-4 Sitka lead and Monroe answered junior Margaret Zaverl scoring.
Sitka’s Olney-Miller hit a bucket for a 19-6 lead and seemed to have control of the Monroe press but the Rams closed out the quarter on a 9-0 run to trail 19-15 at the half.
Young scored to open the second half for Sitka and Stepovich answered with a pair of Monroe free throws.
Brady hit one from the line for Sitka and Zaverl one from the field for Monroe to cut into the lead 22-19.
Young added a free throw for Sitka and Olney-Young had two steals that turned into a shot past the arc for Young and a 26-19 Lady Wolves lead with two minutes left in the stanza.
Zaverl scored for Monroe and Young for Sitka to end the third quarter with the Lady Wolves up 28-22.
Monroe sophomore Tatyana Snowden opened the fourth quarter with a basket to cut the lead to four, 28-24 but Sitka’s Brady hit inside and Morrison made a free throw for a 31-24 advantage.
Monroe upped their pressure another notch and freshman Shannel Kovalsky scored inside, senior Katrina Bast hit from past the arc and Kovalsky hit against to tie the score at 31-31 with 1:20 left in the game.
“They stayed level headed,” Bartolaba said of the Lady Wolves. “We knew that these games coming up were going to be pressured and physical. We just made sure we stayed mentally focused and level headed through that kind of pressures.”
Monroe would suffer their own injury as Bast went down on a hard drive, and turnover, past her bench and be lost with a knee injury and 20 seconds left to play.
On the ensuing possession Smith broke full court pressure and was fouled as she drove through the key and had to leave the game with 12.1 seconds remaining.
After Olney-Miller substituted at the line and hit both free throws, Monroe called time out but was unable to get a shot off when play resumed.
Young led the Lady Wolves with a game-high 18 points and had three rebounds. Morrison added six points and six rebounds, Brady five points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and Olney-Miller four points. Smith had three assists, two rebounds, one steal and one deflection.
Sitka hit 10-16 at the free throw line, Monroe 4-6. The Lady Wolves had 16 turnovers, the Rams 12.
Stepovich and Kovalsky led the Rams with eight points apiece. Zaverl added seven points, sophomore Isabella Bond and Bast three points apiece, and Snowden two. Snowden had seven rebounds. Bast and Zaverl had two steals apiece.
Sitka coach Bartolaba paused when asked what she would tell the team after a great win that incurred a heavy loss.
“They have worked so hard to get to this spot here and come back here,” she said. “And I know their teammate would not want anything else than their best effort tomorrow so we’ll go in maybe with or without her and give it our best effort. And I know they would want to do that for themselves and for her.”
Young was selected the Player Of The Game.
“It was pretty exciting,” Young said after the game. “But it was tough to see our point guard go down at the end. She means a lot for our team but we had to win the game for her. Our coach had us prepared for the pressure in practice. We have been practicing for this moment for four months. So we were ready. Tawny is amazing. She means so much to this team. She’s an amazing leader and she really gets us started. She’s always positive, cheering us on… it was really tough to see her go down.”
Above - Sitka sophomre Maitlin Young (13) scores from past the arc over Monroe junior Sophia Stepovich (21) and sophomore Miranda Wilkerson (20) during the Lady Wolves 33-31 win over the Rams in the ASAA March Madness Alaska ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 3A Girls Basketball State semifinal at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center on Thursday. (Klas Stolpe/KINY)
Below - Sitka senior Chloe Morrison wrestles a rebound away from Monroe freshman Shannel Kovalsky (34) and sophomore Tatyana Snowden (24) during the Lady Wolves 33-31 win over the Rams in their ASAA March Madness Alaska ASAA/First National Bank Alaska 3A Girls Basketball State semifinal at Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center on Thursday. (Klas Stolpe/KINY)