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home : sports : sports Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2/22/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Central sophomore Hailey Saunders attempts a three-pointer during the first half of the Sabers’ regional quarterfinal game with Marion, Wednesday night. Saunders came up big in the final minute of the contest, knocking down four free throws and coming up with a big steal as Central held off the Indians 48-43 to advance to tonight’s regional semifinals. Photo by Ross Eberhart
Central rallies, then holds off Marion in regional opener

By Ross Eberhart
Sports editor

Throughout the regular season, drama had a way of finding the Central girls basketball team.

So it should come as little surprise that the Sabers' postseason opener featured its fair share of late thrills as well.

Hosting Marion in a 4A regional quarterfinal, Central used a big third quarter to jump in front of the Indians.

The Sabers' margin grew as large as nine early in the fourth quarter before Marion made things very interesting.

The Indians knocked down three different three-pointers in a four-minute span and Central's lead was cut all the way to one with a minute to play.

The Sabers, though, showed their mettle, knocking down enough free throws down the stretch to bring home a 48-43 victory.

"If the fans are interested in watching a close game, we'll give it to you," Central head coach Mark Kurtz said of his squad, which advanced to tonight's regional semifinal at Cedar Rapids Xavier with its win. "In the postseason, it is survive and advance - I told the girls 'it doesn't matter what it looks like as long as you finish the game with at least one more point than the opponent'.

"I liked the resolve the girls had, they showed a lot of toughness tonight."

A 6-0 run to end the third quarter gave the Sabers a 35-29 lead with eight minutes to play, and Central added to it as Kali Roling knocked down a three-pointer and Miranda Meland added a jumper.

The second hoop pushed the Sabers' advantage to nine (40-31) and forced a Marion timeout.

The Indians responded with their own three-pointer after the timeout, but Abby Willis countered with a free throw.

The game's next score, though, proved to be another Marion three and this time it was Central calling timeout.

Still up four with just over two minutes to go, the Sabers elected to play keep-away, forcing the Indians to use up their fouls.

The strategy worked, Central cut nearly a minute from the clock before Marion finally committed its seventh foul to send the Sabers to the line.

Central, though, missed the front end of a one-and-one and Marion came out of the Sabers' possession unscathed.

The Indians came up empty on a pair of shots during their trip down the court and the Sabers came up with a rebound.

Unfortunately, Central's free throw woes continued with a miss and this time the Indians made the Sabers pay with a three-pointer to make it 41-40 with 1:09 remaining.

Still, Marion had to foul to get the ball back and the Sabers had another chance to add to their advantage.

Sophomore Hailey Saunders did just that, splitting her two free throws to make it a two-point game.

Saunders then came up with an even bigger play on the defensive end, swiping the ball right away from an Indian driving to the hoop, leading to another Marion foul.

Saunders dropped in one more free throw and now the score was 43-40 Sabers.

Marion tried to tie things up on a three at the top of the key, but the shot rimmed out and the Sabers rebounded.

Another Central free throw - this one by Roling - followed and the Sabers added one more from Amanda Brainerd to make it 45-40.

The Indians made one final push, knocking down a three with five seconds left.

Saunders, though, iced the game with two free throws and a late Marion turnover coupled with a Brainerd free throw created the final five-point margin.

The two teams split the game's first 18 points before finding some separation late in the first quarter.

It was the Indians who finished the opening stanza on top as Marion used a late 6-3 run to build a 15-12 lead.

The visitors' push extended into the second quarter as well and Marion led by as many as six.

Central, though, got a big quarter from Brainerd, who scored all eight Saber points. The final four doubled as the final points of the first half and the Sabers were back within one at the half.

"For about the first quarter and a half, we didn't play much defense," Kurtz said. "During those final four minutes of the first half, though, we were able to buckle down (after going up six, the Indians were held to just a single free throw in the second quarter)."

Marion struck first in the second half, hitting a three-pointer, but the third quarter truly belonged to the Sabers.

Meland answered the Indians' trey with one of her own and then gave Central its first lead since the opening quarter with a steal and lay-up.

Brainerd added a jumper and Central led 27-24.

Marion, however, knocked down another three (they hit seven in the game) to tie things up and the two squads traded points to keep things even.

The Sabers pulled in front again with a Brainerd drive and this time the Indians could not answer.

Instead, Brainerd scored again and Emily Cornelius added an offensive put-back to give Central a 35-29 lead into the fourth quarter.

And despite Marion's best efforts, it would be an advantage the Sabers would keep the rest of the way.

Brainerd led all scorers with 20 points, while Meland joined her in double-figures with 12.

Saunders had seven points with Roling adding four.

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