For three-plus quarters, the lead repeatedly shifted between Van Horn and Center.
During the final minutes of the fourth quarter, it shifted to Center – and stayed there.
Van Horn was leading the Class 4 District 14 Tournament girls semifinal 43-42 when Center staged a 13-0 stretch run to hand the Falcons a 55-43 season-ending loss Thursday night at Center. Van Horn finished 17-5.
“I think at the start of the fourth quarter, we saw a little fatigue set in,” Van Horn girls basketball coach A.B. Lennox said. “And then, we started having some unforced turnovers. But the first three quarters we just had a lot of confidence and were executing the game plan.”
Lennox said that another factor changed the fourth quarter: Yellowjackets center Jazmaine Lewis.
“She’s an excellent ballplayer,” he said.
Center coach Katrina Johnigan also praised the 6-foot-5 junior, who posted a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds.
“She played big,” Johnigan said. “She came out big. We needed her to come out big.”
McKenzie Pearson also helped Center pull away. The junior guard scored six of her 18 total points during the 13-point run.
Johnigan said that a combination of desire and strategy shifted the fourth-quarter momentum. The strategy involved throwing a triangle-and-two defense at the Falcons. The desire is a trait Johnigan has seen in the Yellowjackets this season, she suggested.
“They play hard,” Johnigan said. “They play together. And they dig deep to get the win.”
During the first half, it was Van Horn that threatened to bolt away from Center. After trading leads and then ending the first quarter deadlocked 8-8, the Falcons built an eight-point, second-quarter lead (27-19). Van Horn led 27-21 at halftime.
Center responded by rallying to build a six-point, third-quarter lead (37-31). But Van Horn staged a 7-1 run to make it 38-38 at quarter’s end. The Falcons then held two one-point leads before the Yellowjackets staged their decisive run.
The Falcons held their own into the fourth quarter by playing typical Van Horn basketball, according to freshman guard Lexi Robinson.
“We always play as a team,” Robinson said. “We always … trust each other. We always have confidence in each other.”
Three-point shooting by Robinson and senior Chase Siedlik also helped the Falcons trade leads with the Yellowjackets. The two each sank four treys to finish with 12 points.
By holding off Van Horn down the stretch, Center (15-10) advanced to play Lincoln Prep at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Center for the district title.
“I think it’s going to be a tough game,” Johnigan said. “But I think we can win if we play together and play level-headed and get through the press.”
For the Falcons, the loss capped a season that Lennox described as “wonderful” and Robinson described as “great.”
“This is, like, the greatest team I’ve ever been on,” Robinson said. “We … (played) as a team through all games – even the losses.”