By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
Heartbreak does not begin to describe the feeling left by the outcome of Saturday’s 5A Region II championship game in Garland.
Some will claim the Midlothian Lady Panthers girls’ basketball team overachieved a bit by reaching the regional final. Those critics will likely cite the early-season loss of all-everything junior guard Kierra Middleton or the team’s second-place finish in District 14-5A.
And they might very well be right in doing so. Maybe.
There will, however, be no one left to question their fight following a 48-43 triple-overtime loss to Frisco Liberty in Saturday’s 5A Region II title game at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
Midlothian carried a 14-10 lead in the halftime locker room. They then led or were tied for all of the second half and the first and second overtime frames.
Frisco Liberty junior Lily Ziemkiewicz ultimately put the game on ice with just under two minutes to play in overtime number three.
The win improved Frisco Liberty to 26-11 on the season and advanced the Lady Red Hawks to the 5A state championship tournament. Midlothian ends its historic season with a record of 23-11.
The Lady Panthers advanced to the regional championship tilt by defeating Frisco Lone Star 43-41 on Friday.
Midlothian led 14-10 at the half and freshman Baylee Davis led all Lady Panther scorers at the break with five points.
Jerica Henderson drilled a corner three with about six minutes to play in the third quarter to put the Lady Panthers up 19-13. Kadia Ward followed by knocking down one of her two free-throw attempts to push the Midlothian lead to seven, 20-13.
It was again Henderson that answered for the Lady Panthers when she tickled the twine for a second three-pointer after a 5-0 run by the Lady Red Hawks. Her bucket put Midlothian ahead, 23-18, as the clock dipped under three minutes to play in the third quarter.
The two treys were the first two buckets of the game for Henderson.
Unfortunately, the two-possession Midlothian lead did not carry into the final frame, as Frisco Liberty sophomore guard Jazzy Owens-Barnett scored twice late to pull the Lady Red Hawks within one as the third quarter closed.
“Eight to state,” said “The Voice of the Panthers” Tater Beard on the team’s official broadcast as the 5A Region II championship turned toward the fourth quarter and final eight minutes with the Lady Panthers clinging to a 23-22 lead.
In hindsight, it would’ve behooved the Lady Panthers for Beard to be right.
The first basket of the fourth quarter came as the clock ran under five minutes to play. Maykayla Jackson faked a pass on the drive and laid in two points for a 25-22 advantage.
Aaniyah Hayes then scored from the low post on a Jackson assist with 3:35 to play to put the Lady Panthers up 27-22.
A few possessions later, Ward answered a Frisco Liberty bucket with one of her own for a 30-24 Midlothian lead.
Owens-Barnett was then fouled by Jackson on the Lady Red Hawks’ end of the court and knocked down both free throws to pull within four, 30-26, with 2:34 in play in the regional championship.
That lead eventually shrunk by two thanks to a pair of Lady Red Hawk free throws with 1:45 to play.
Sophomore points guard Kamen Wong fouled out for Frisco Liberty on the ensuing Midlothian possession.
The Lady Panthers inbounded the ball with 1:22 showing on the clock, only to have Owens-Barnett capitalize on a Lady Panther turnover to tie the game at 30-all with 43 seconds to play.
Midlothian’s shot attempt with 28 seconds to go in regulation was off of the mark and put the basketball back into the hands of Owens-Barnett and the Lady Red Hawks.
Thirty-two minutes proved not to be enough time to decide this one, either.
Midlothian and Frisco Liberty headed to overtime in Garland tied at 30-all.
The Lady Panthers scored first via a free throw, but a Frisco Liberty put-back of an offensive rebound had the Lady Red Hawks ahead, 32-31, with two minutes and change to play.
Henderson buried the biggest shot to that point of the Lady Panthers’ season with her third triple of the second half. The bucket put Midlothian ahead 34-32 with 1:14 to play.
A Frisco Liberty turnover resulted in Ward toeing the free-throw line with 14 seconds on the clock and Midlothian in a one-and-one situation.
She converted the first. And then the second for a 36-34 lead.
Owens-Barnett quickly advanced the ball up the court, absorbed a foul and converted on the and-one to cut the Midlothian lead to one, 36-35.
The Lady Panthers then turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound with 8.3 seconds to play.
Though it came as no surprise, the ball was inbounded to Owens-Barnett, who was promptly fouled and sent back to the line with 4.2 seconds remaining.
Her first attempt tied the game at 36-all. The second clanged off of the rim and rebounded by Ward.
It appeared that Ward was fouled on the final heave of the first overtime quarter. The referees converged, decided not to send her to the line for three shots and sent the game into a second four-minute overtime.
Neither team found the bottom of the bucket over the first 90 seconds of the second overtime. That changed with Ward splashed home the second of her two free-throw attempts with 2:28 to play.
Maya Jain responded — quickly — with a three-pointer to put Liberty ahead for the first time since early in the first half, 39-37.
The lead was short-lived, though.
With just over 90 seconds to play, Ward converted on a pair of free throws to knot the game at 39-all.
The points were her 13th and 14th of the game and ultimately sent the game into a third overtime.
Owens-Barnett led all scorers with 19 at the time.
Midlothian eventually took a 39-37 following a pair of free throws with 2:57 to play.
The dagger came with 1:50 to play when Lily Ziemkiewicz drilled a three-pointer for a 45-41 Frisco Liberty lead.
On the ensuing Midlothian possession, Ward knocked down two more free throws to cut the lead to three.
Jain and Ziemkiewicz each went one-of-two from the charity stripe and extended the Frisco Liberty lead back to five points, 48-43.
The Frisco Liberty lead held through the final buzzer.
Ward led the Lady Panthers with 18 points, while Henderson finished with 11.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith