UNION — There’s not a player Union County would rather have at the free throw line with mere seconds on the clock and a chance to tie the game than its senior guard Kristin Giles.
That was the scenario that played out in Monday’s first round playoff game against Seneca. With 7.5 seconds left in regulation, down 42-40, the Lady Jackets fought frantically to get a shot to fall. Giles grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket, missed the put-back but was fouled on the play.
Union County’s leading scorer went to the line to shoot two. Her first shot rolled around the rim and tipped out.
“If I’d gotten the ‘And one’ we’d have been okay,” said Giles. “I should’ve made that shot but I wasn’t really thinking about that when I went to the line. I was very cool until I missed the free throw.”
Head Coach Angela Burke immediately asked for a timeout and made the call for Giles to intentionally miss the second free throw, giving the Lady Jackets an opportunity to grab a rebound and a quick shot.
Back at the line, Giles tossed up the intentional miss. The ball bounced off the rim and came right back to Giles as the referee sounded his whistle. The call was a lane violation on the shooter.
Seneca got the ball back under the Union County goal and the Jackets were forced to foul on the ensuing inbounds play. Briante Thompson knocked down a pair of free throws to put the final nail in the coffin, 44-40.
Thompson finished the game with 19 points and was 13 for 21 from the line.
It was a back and forth affair all night and Union County never trailed by more than eight points. Seneca’s shooters got hot late in the third quarter and took a 31-23 lead but Union County responded with a 8-0 run to cut the margin to one point.
Giles knocked down a jumper from the top of the key to give the Lady Jackets the lead. Then Thompson matched Union County, basket for basket, scoring seven of Seneca’s next nine points. Dexlie Inman drained a three-pointer while Shoulda Stevens and Mari Eison each added a bucket in the final two minutes, but Seneca’s Cierra Boggs hit the last field goal for either team with just under one minute to go in regulation, 42-40.
Seneca had done its homework on Union County and was successful in not only keeping Giles relatively quiet but also in exposing the Lady Jackets’ height disadvantage. The Lady Bobcats controlled the boards, out-rebounding Union County in every quarter.
“They did a good job setting up the box and one on Kristin and it threw us off a little bit,” said Burke. “We told our girls that they had to hit the boards. We weren’t getting second chance shots offensively and our shooting was just cold. Our guards were taking some good shots, they just weren’t falling and that hurt us.”
The loss eliminated the Lady Jackets from post-season play and although it was a disappointing end to their impressive season(18-4), the first year coach remained positive during post-interviews.
“I told the girls to keep their heads up,” said Burke. “They tried their best to do what I asked them to do and I’m still very proud of my young ladies.”
Giles finished the game with nine points. Eison turned in eight points, Cierra Mitchell added seven and Should Stevens contributed five.