By Tony Burns
West Side Christian came out on the short end of two thrilling AACS South District Tournament championship games Saturday afternoon at the Warrior Center. Columbia Christian held off the Lady Warriors 46-43 in the girls final before the Warriors let one slip away to the Crusaders 49-46 in the boys title match.
Before the finals, West Side’s girls were 2-0 against Columbia Christian on the season. But, the Lady Crusaders’ youth gained experience daily. Down the stretch Saturday, Columbia Christian didn’t make any mistakes, hitting 4-of-4 at the line and then executing an inbounds play for a layup at the end of the game.
I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. Three years ago, we were 6-18. I’m just proud of them. I’m happy,” said Coach Rod Briggs.
Columbia led 37-32 midway in the fourth before Hannah Miller scored in the paint for West Side. After a defensive stop, Lauren Land grabbed an offensive rebound and hit a short jumper. Land knocked down a jumper in the lane to give the Lady Warriors a 38-37 lead with 1:46 left to play.
The Lady Crusaders got the ball to sixth grader Heidi May, who drained her fifth 3-pointer, this one from the corner, which gave Columbia a 40-38 advantage with 1:33 left.
West Side tried to get the ball inside to Land but it was stolen. With 37.3 seconds left, Columbia’s Kelcy Lamkin stepped to the line for the 1-and-1 and calmly sank both free throws. The Lady Warriors got a free throw from Miller, who missed the second attempt but teammate Olivia Voss fought off a pair of Lady Crusaders for the board and drew the foul. The senior hit both free throws to cut the lead to 42-41 with 26.4 on the clock.
West Side sent Madison Williamson to the foul line and shit hit both ends of the 1-and-1 to push the lead to three.
The Lady Warriors went for the tying 3-pointer but Sofia Narciso’s attempt rimmed out. However, Land corralled the rebound and was fouled. She made both free throws to cut the deficit to one with 15.3 seconds left. After a timeout, the Lady Crusaders ran an out-of-bounds play for Lamkin, who got behind West Side’s defense for a layup with six seconds left. West Side tried to rush a tying attempt but Narciso’s heave wasn’t close as the final buzzer sounded.
“I thought early on we were not as aggressive against pressure as we wanted to be. We did a good job on the defensive glass. And, we hit some big shots and free throws late. But, they did as well,” said West Side coach Randall Miller. “I need to do a better job of making sure we have an attack mentality. Just need to coach a little better, honestly.”
Columbia Christian hit 9-of-11 at the line in the game while West Side shot 8-of-12 at the line.
Voss and Land led the Lady Warriors with 17 and 12, respectively.
May led all scorers with 20 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer down the stretch.
“She is a sixth grader. In our league, sixth graders can play both ways. So, I didn’t sleep for two nights. Should I put her in? Should I not start her? I just went with my gut and stuck her in there. She had 20 points tonight and it paid off,” said Briggs.
“To be so young and step up and hit a shot like that, her future is really bright.”
In the boys game, West Side came out clicking on all cylinders. Sophomore Stephfan Tabe was unstoppable in the paint with 19 first half points. The Warriors led 17-10 after one quarter and 33-19 at the half.
”I thought we did a great job early defensively,” said Miller. “The guys did a good job of attacking, and getting the ball inside.”
The second half was a different story as Columbia Christian switched to a 1-3-1 defense. The Warriors moved Tabe to the perimeter and then, with 3:24 left in the third, he went to the bench with his third foul.
“He will be an all-state player. He’s a heck of a talent,” said Briggs. “When he went outside, we felt like if we could get a few rebounds, we could get back in the game. We wanted him to shoot a few outside shots to help us inside. So,it definitely helped us when he went to the perimeter.”
The Warriors held a 39-30 lead late in the third before surrendering a 7-0 spurt to the Crusaders in the final minute of the quarter. Taylor Stinnett hit a shot at the buzzer to close the gap to 39-37.
West Side regained control on three straight buckets by Tabe and led 45-37 with 5:20 remaining. But, the Warriors would not hit a field goal the rest of the way.
Trailing 46-39, Columbia's Ryan McKamie drained two 3-pointers, the second of which pulled the Crusaders to within 46-45 with 2:10 remaining. Still with the lead, the Warriors twice missed on 3-point attempts before Columbia connected on a long 2-pointer from the corner and grabbed a 47-46 lead with 53.6 seconds left.
West Side couldn't answer offensively but the Warriors' Viraj Vora did come up with a steal. His drive into the lane came up empty, however. The Crusaders pushed the lead to 49-46 on Stinnett's two free throws with 9.2 left on the clock.
West Side, now needing a 3-pointer, set up Tabe in the corner. His shot was well defended and rimmed out. The Crusaders ran down the rebound for the victory.
Tabe led West Side with 26 points while Zach Scriber scored nine.
“They’re just tough. West Side’s a good team. I admire everything Coach Miller does," said Briggs. "We just made a few plays at the end. I’m happy to get the win. I’m just glad we could hit some shots and came out with a win.”
Stinnett led Columbia with 20 points.
“This one’s definitely on me,” said Miller. “We didn’t execute well on freeing up Viraj and I need to coach that better. Spreading the floor while staying aggressive is something we have to get better at as well, and that falls on me.”
The coach also lamented a technical foul in the first half on the Warriors. Columbia missed both technical free throws but the game was delayed for several minutes.
”We had a technical called on Zach that was absolutely ridiculous, and a long delay while they figured out what they wanted to do, and we were flat for a bit after that.”