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Cougars storm back to advance in sectionals

February 23, 2006|by CURT HORNBECKER / Staff Correspondent

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Katie Danno called it a miracle.

But to the Martinsburg girls basketball team, it was simply heartbreaking.

The Bulldogs watched a 15-point fourth-quarter lead disintegrate as arch-rival Jefferson claimed a 54-52 win in the Class AAA Region II Section 2 quarterfinals Wednesday night.

Dezirea Clinton's 7-footer with three seconds left allowed the Cougars to advance in the sectional playoffs and ended the season for the disappointed Bulldogs.

Trailing 52-51, Keyara Stevenson inbounded the ball the length of the floor to Danno, who was fouled in the act of shooting. The Cougars forward hit the first of two free throws to tie the game with 11.3 seconds left, then stole the rebound of her missed second shot from Martinsburg and passed to Stevenson, who found Clinton in the lane for the winning bucket.

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"The (missed free throw) was out of my mind," said Danno. "All I could think about was getting the ball back. Then I saw Keyara, and she hit Dezirea. Thank god Dezirea made that shot."

Less than six minutes earlier, however, the Bulldogs (8-12) seemed to have matters well in hand, having responded to a 5-0 Cougars run to end the third period with a LaToya Buckner-led six-point rally to open the final eight minutes.

But Aissa Diehl contributed eight points, and Danno added six in a 20-2 Jefferson spree that saw the Cougars (9-11) take their first lead of the game, 49-48, with 1:18 left.

Buckner hit a pair of free throws with 22 seconds remaining before an Iesha Robinson steal resulted in an easy layup and a 52-51 Martinsburg advantage, which led to Stevenson's home run pass.

"These girls have given all they have, all year long," said Martinsburg coach Beth Sedlar. "We just have lapses and mental breakdowns at times, when we know what to do, we just don't do it."

The Bulldogs may have had those lapses at other points in the game, but always managed to right the ship before Jefferson could take the lead.

Spurred by Buckner's shot-blocking ability inside, Martinsburg charged to a 12-1 lead within the first four minutes. But Danno and Diehl led a 17-6 charge to tie the score at 18-18 midway through the second period. But Robinson and Nicole Peterson helped Martinsburg score 12 straight points to regain the double-digit advantage.

Late in the third period, the Cougars reeled off a 12-6 run to close the gap to nine going into the fourth period.

"We have a great bunch of kids who believe in themselves," said Jefferson coach Dawn Diehl. "They're starting to do what we've been trying to get them to do. They think they're going to win."

The Cougars nearly lost the game at the free throw line, hitting just 14 of 25 from the stripe. Seven of those misses came in the fourth period. Meanwhile, Martinsburg nearly pulled off the win at the free throw line, draining 13 of 16 shots, but two of the misses came in the final minutes of the game.

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