THRILLING RALLYÂ FALLS JUST SHORT
Throughout her years playing basketball for the Freeman High School girls, Emmarie Edwards has viewed the “Last Play” mantra adopted by the team six seasons ago as a rallying cry — something the players wore on the backs of their shooting shirts that both united and motived the Flyers.
Last Thursday night, on the basketball court in Tea, those two words took on a whole new meaning for Edwards and three other seniors — Jaimie Glanzer, Emily Miller and Izzy Sayler — whose prep basketball careers were suddenly over.
“Tonight, I guess I experience what ‘last play’ really means,” an emotional Edwards said following the Flyers’ 50-44 loss to Viborg-Hurley in the final round of the Region 5B Tournament. “That’s always been our thing; we always try to play every play like it’s our last, but there really is going to be one.”
Freeman’s loss to the Cougars left the team one game short of the SoDak16 and a chance to play for a return trip to state, where they finished fourth in 2019. But the Flyers sure had their fans on the edge of their seats during a frenetic second half, giving the school and the community a thrill in a game that looked all but over at halftime.
There were two primary reasons why the Cougars led 15-7 after the first quarter and 30-14 at the half:
1. They shot the ball well;
2. The Flyers did not.
Viborg-Hurley, the Region 5B No. 2 seed, posted a 58% shooting percentage from the field while Freeman, the No. 3 seed, shot 2-10 from two-point range and 3-11 from three-point range for an overall tally of 5-21. That’s just under 24 percent. The salt in the wound was that the Flyers were also just 1-6 from the free-throw line and committed 11 turnovers in those first 16 minutes, which helped the Cougars own the momentum throughout the first and second quarters and heading into halftime.
“Our chins were down a little bit because we didn’t play very offensively,” head coach Curtis Sage said after the game. “We took some bad shots or tried to create shots when the opportunity wasn’t there, but for the most part I thought we took good shots. We just didn’t throw it in the ocean.”
Sage noted the play of junior Sydney Voss, who led the Cougars with 25 points and four assists, and freshman Denae Mach, who went for 13 points and seven rebounds for the game.
“We knew we had to stay in man; (Mach) and Voss were hurting us from the outside so we had to throw away our zone,” said head coach Curtis Sage; “stay in man but just be better in our man defense.”
But Sage said the biggest adjustment the Flyers made at halftime came on the offensive end by getting junior Rijjy Peterson the ball inside.
“That really was the difference,” Sage said.
Indeed, Freeman looked like a different team in the second half as they slowly chipped away at Viborg-Hurley’s lead, winning the third period 16-8 to make it a 30-38 game. A few key possessions that third period really flipped the momentum in favor of the Flyers, with Peterson scoring five straight points on consecutive possessions followed by a Miller offensive rebound and put-back after two missed free throws.
The Cougars responded with a field goal to reclaim a double-digit lead, but a steal and layup by freshman Erin Uecker kept Viborg-Hurley from taking over the game the way they had in the first half. Peterson then connected on two free throws and a short jumper for four more of her team-high 15 points, and an Edwards three-pointer with 3:30 left made it 39-44.
“When you and your teammates are playing well together, the energy just bounces off of you and it’s just so much fun,” said Sayler. “We all could feel it.”
That energy no doubt fueled Freeman’s defense, which continued to create problems for a Cougars team that was rattled.
“We emphasized (after the game) the effort that they showed in the second half defensively,” Sage said. “We haven’t been a man team — we haven’t been a full-court man team — all year and they were able to step up and get it done.”
Peterson, meanwhile, continued to own the offensive end for the Flyers, scoring inside on a sweet feed from Miller to make it 42-46 and then stealing the ball on the Cougars’ ensuing possession and connecting on yet another short jump shot to make it 44-46 with under a minute to play.
But that’s as close as the Flyers would get. Freeman chose to foul in the front court on Viborg-Hurley’s next possessions and the Cougars responded by knocking down four consecutive free throws to end the scoring — and the Flyers’ season.
Freeman finished the year 13-9. Viborg-Hurley, meanwhile, will take a 17-5 record into the SoDak16, where they are the No. 12 seed and will face No. 5 Howard Thursday night in Madison.
Top Region 5B seed Irene-Wakonda is the other representative and is the No. 11 seed; the Eagles will play No. 7 Langford Area at the Huron Arena.
END OF THE LINE
In addition to talking about the literal impact that “last play” had on her, Edwards talked about how blessed she felt to play basketball for Freeman Public.
“Flyers basketball is not the same as other basketball,” she said through the tears and the quivering voice. “Yes, we work as hard as we can, but it’s not just on the court, it’s off the court, as well. We have our four covenants that we live by (work ethic, team, class and mental toughness) and we make sure we do those things in the classroom, in the community, on the court, wherever it is.
“It’s all about making ourselves as people the best we can be.”
Sayler said playing in the state tournament her junior year will be something she will always remember, but she says her prep basketball career will be defined by so much more.
“I’ll think about my teammates and how much of a team we really were,” she said. “It was really special to be part of a group that was so close.”
“Forget about losing the game; think about what these girls have experienced,” Sage said of the senior class. “We’re definitely going to miss them, not only as basketball players, but as people,”
Assistant coach Chris Maske also spoke about the senior class, the moxie they showed in that second half surge and the legacy they leave behind.
“What this group has done — in that second half, how hard they played — will leave an impact on every young girl that was sitting in those stands that wants to wear a Freeman Flyers jersey. The character they showed on and off the court; that is this team’s legacy.”