FLYERS NEARLY RUN DOWN CENTERVILLE IN WILD 5B AFFAIR
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
All the big shots, defensive stands and never-give-ups the Flyers could muster weren’t quite enough to score a memorable upset that would have stunned a peppy Centerville team that in no way, shape or form expected to lose.
No, it was the Freeman girls who lost 52-50 after almost winning in a wild Region 5B semifinal in Scotland between the fourth-seeded Flyers and the top-seed Tornados. Freeman nearly got the job done by staging two out-of-nowhere comebacks that put the brakes on any notion of Centerville pulling away and sealing the deal with ease.
The first came at the end of the second quarter when the Flyers outscored the Tornados 7-0 in the final 1:40 to tie the game at 24. The second came in the second half, after Centerville had opened up a 33-24 on an 11-0 run to start the third period, and then a 39-28 lead another three-pointer. The Tornados drained eight for the game.
“Centerville is quick and works hard; they can shoot from the outside, but they also dribble-drive really well,” said Freeman head coach Jenny Peters, whose team lost to the Tornados 47-33 during the regular season. “They are an aggressive attack team; we knew we needed to play with some attitude and match their intensity.”
That go-out-and-get-’em mentality is what helped get the Flyers’ motor running late in the third period, and once they started knocking down some shots, the momentum swung hard in Freeman’s favor.
Junior Erin Uecker’s second three-pointer of the game cut Centerville’s lead to 39-31, and after a defensive stand, Uecker’s classmate Kate Miller connected on a nice move inside to make it 39-33 with 3:35 left in the third period. Later in the quarter, freshman Peyton McCune connected from downtown to cut even further into the Tornados’ lead at 41-38 — the score heading into the final period.
“They came out fast and furious to start that third quarter, but we clawed and climbed our way back,” said Peters. “Being able to do that against a team like Centerville is huge.”
And Freeman’s energy rolled over in the fourth quarter. A 12-foot jumper from Ashlin Jacobsen made it 44-42 with 6:03 left, and with 4:14 to play, an offensive rebound and put-back from Uecker tied the game at 46-46.
Centerville responded when freshman Thea Gust, who finished with 20 points, four assists and three steals, connected on another Tornado three-pointer to make it 49-46 with 2:30 left. Gust’s triple came after the Flyers gave up two offensive rebounds after missed shots; Freeman gave up eight offensive rebounds for the game.
But Centerville gave up their fair share, too, which is what contributed to Freeman’s ability to come back time and time again and hit big shots in the closing minutes, and eventually leapfrog the Tornados on the scoreboard. After Miller connected on a field goal inside just before the shot clock expired to make it a 49-48 game, the Flyers took their first lead of the game with 42 seconds to play when Miller drilled a mid-range jumper that made it 50-49.
Centerville got one back on one of two free throws converted by sophomore Lillie Eide to even the score, but Freeman had the ball with 25 seconds left and the opportunity to take the final shot of the game — but they turned the ball over.
And the Tornados capitalized. With the clock winding down, Eide drove hard into the lane from the perimeter and got off a scoop shot just around Miller’s extended arms and kissed it in high off the glass to make it 52-50 with 5 seconds to play.
The Flyers inbounded the ball and got off one last prayer, but Uecker’s heave beyond the half-court line over a defender never had a chance, and that was that.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Peters. “You think about the would-have, could-have, should-haves. Maybe I should have called a timeout at the end, or the girls are thinking about that shot that they should have made. There are definitely mixed emotions — happy to know that you can compete with a good team, but heartbreaking to know that you could have beaten one of the top teams in the state.”
Peters admits she does regret her decision not to call a timeout at the end of the game. She said she thought about it when Eide was shooting her free throws, but elected not to after she missed her second and Uecker nabbed the board.
“I should have, for sure, and that’s my mistake,” said the coach. “Erin got the rebound and I thought maybe we could get something in transition, but it didn’t work out. That’s something I’m going to have to try and move on from. It’s something I’ll probably think about all summer long. Definitely something to learn from.”
While the loss was and still is tough to swallow for the Flyers, Peters sees the bigger picture.
“I’m just so proud of those girls,” said the first-year head coach. “They played so hard and gave 100 percent all night long. They fought so hard through that whole game, and to come back against a team like that — that’s huge.”
Freeman’s effort in the Region 5B Tournament, which also included a 37-32 win over a Scotland team that had defeated the Flyers by 13 points during the regular season (read that story in the sports section at freemansd.com), is indicative of the growth of the Flyers throughout what was an up-and-down season.
Good ball movement on the perimeter and an ability to therefore find the open girl inside has been something Peters has been preaching all year long, “and it finally started to come together late in the season,” she said.
Peters also praised the play of Uecker in the 5B tournament, who as one of three juniors on the team is among the leaders both physically and emotionally. She had 27 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots in Freeman’s two region games. Uecker’s ability to step up late this season was particularly important given the defensive attention paid to Miller, Freeman’s top player who contended with both injury and illness during the season.
“Erin just really had to step up, and I think she did a good job of that,” says Peters. “She had that fight to just keep on going. She had to be our point guard, and yet she was expected to be a shooter from the outside, or pop inside and contribute offensively and defensively. I think she did a really good job in all of those roles.”
She also noted the contributions from non-leading scorers; the Flyers aren’t there at the end against Centerville were it not for three-pointers from Cami Fransen or McCune, or a steal and layup from seventh grader Rylee Peters coming in off the bench.
“It’s so fun to see it,” said the coach. “I love having everyone involved; that’s what it takes. I love seeing the girls come off the bench and score, and everyone in our starting five score.
“Basketball is a hard sport and there are so many things that have to fall into place. It literally takes all people.”
Peters said it was quiet in the locker room when she and assistant coach Chris Maske walked in after the Centerville game. “There were some tears,” she says. “I think the girls were proud of themselves, but it is hard to lose a game that goes down to the wire.”
“That feeling they have — that’s what’s going to drive them,” she continues. “I’m excited for the future of this team. They’re all really good kids and all want to work as hard as they can.”
That hard work almost earned the Flyers a historic upset in the biggest game of the season.
Said the coach: “We just ran out of time.”
Freeman and Centerville both shot 34 percent from the field (the Flyers were 19-for-51and the Tornados were 21-for-60 while Freeman finished 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and Centerville was 2-for-5.
The Flyers won the rebound battle 35-24 but committed more turnovers — 12 to 6.
Freeman finishes the season 10-11.
Centerville takes a 20-2 record into Thursday’s SoDak 16, where they are the No. 8 seed facing No. 9 Aberdeen Christian (19-3).
Kate Miller – 24 points, 10 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 assist; Erin Uecker – 10 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 1 assist; Ashlin Jacobsen – 6 points, 5 rebounds; Cami Fransen – 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists; Peyton McCune – 3 points, 4 rebounds; Rylee Peters – 2 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals