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Thursday's Group 3A East semifinal matchup between Warhill and Petersburg had everything one could want from a playoff game: fast-paced action, players for both teams hitting big-time shots and a game-winning buzzer beater.
Unfortunately for Warhill, the Lions found themselves on the wrong end of the game-winning buzzer beater as Petersburg snatched a 39-38 win on Warhill's home court.
Warhill Coach Bingo Brungot, who practically watched the game through the gaps of his fingers as he often held both hands against his head out of frustration or stress, was left deflated and crestfallen after the loss.
"It stings a ton," he said. "It was a messy, sloppy game and I think that's the style of play they've got and they sucked us into it. We threw the ball away way too many times, missed way too many layups and missed some free throws early. In a one-point loss, I can find 100 things we could have done differently in that game."
The Lions opened the game looking like the stronger team despite turnovers and missed free throws.
After jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead, Warhill built a 9-4 lead with three minutes left to play in the opening quarter.
However, in spite of their quick start, the Lions were visibly affected by a larger-than-normal crowd size and louder atmosphere. After the game, Brungot said nerves contributed to some of Warhill's sloppiness.
"I think [the crowd] hyped them up, but the nerves and butterflies were there," Brungot said.
With Warhill leading 10-7 after the first quarter, the Lions had to withstand a rally from Petersburg in the second quarter.
Petersburg's Parker Coats splashed a 3-pointer with 2:15 left in the first half to tie the game at 16 apiece. Warhill's Kieran McClure responded a minute later with a 3-pointer of her own to put the Lions back on top 19-16, which proved to be the halftime score.
Warhill opened the third quarter with a noticeably slower pace of play that featured longer possessions. This slower play reduced Warhill's turnovers, but also limited their scoring output for the time being.
Petersburg took its first lead of the game after the Crimson Wave connected on back-to-back layups to go up 25-23 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
Moments later, Jewel Walters responded with a 3-pointer that put the Lions back on top. The 3-pointer was her only made shot of the game.
Trailing 30-29 with time winding down in the third quarter, Warhill's Jessica Cooke sank a rare 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and give the Lions a 32-30 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Both Warhill and Petersburg struggled to score early in the fourth quarter, seemingly saving the excitement for the final moments of the game.
With 34 seconds left in the game, Warhill's Olivia Schulz picked off a pass and took it all the way for a layup that tied the game at 36 apiece.
On Petersburg's next possession, Raven Williams drew a foul and went to the free throw line for two attempts. Williams sank the first, but missed the second to give the Crimson Wave a one-point edge.
Schulz responded in a big way during Warhill's ensuing possession, also attacking the lane and drawing a foul. Schulz calmly stepped to the line and made both free throws, giving the Lions a 38-37 lead with 12 seconds left.
After a timeout by Petersburg, the Crimson Wave inbounded the ball from the sideline and immediately gave the ball to Williams, who posted a game-high 20 points.
Williams cut down the baseline and attempted a layup that hit the side of the rim. She collected the offensive rebound and put up an off-balance second attempt that bounced around the rim before going in just before the final buzzer sounded.
While the Petersburg players celebrated the last-second heroics, Warhill's players and fans were stunned and silent.
The loss is far from the end of Warhill's season, however, as the Lions have guaranteed a spot in next week's Group 3A state tournament.
Warhill (14-10) will try to put the loss aside as they travel to Petersburg for a neutral site game against John Marshall in the Group 3A East third-place game on Friday.
Petersburg: 7 9 14 9 — 39
Warhill: 10 9 13 6 — 38
Petersburg: Crocker 8, Coats 3, Taylor 2, Fuller 6, Williams 20
Warhill: Schulz 11, J. Cooke 7, McClure 17, Walters 3
3-point goals: Petersburg 2 (Coats, Crocker), Warhill 6 (McClure 4, J. Cooke, Walters)