As the final seconds ticked off in a tied game, Haley Albers watched helplessly from the free-throw line.
Cheney had the ball, but was trapped on the baseline by the basket and a desperation shot was blocked by Garden Plain. Albers suddenly became injected into the drama, though, as she crashed toward the basket and the ball flung straight to her, as she collected it, spun, and banked in the game-winning basket with seven seconds left in Cheney’s 33-31 victory over Garden Plain on Tuesday.
It was a rematch of the season opener, a game Garden Plain won by 19 points, as the Cardinals are now tied atop the Central Plains League standings. Cheney (12-3) also moves ahead of Garden Plain (12-4) for second place in their Class 3A sub-state seedings.
“This is a big win and it gives us confidence against them because we’ll probably see Garden Plain again in sub-state,” said Albers, who scored a game-high 18 points. “(On the last play), I was just trying to get the board and it came right to me. I just had to go up strong.”
Garden Plain shredded Cheney’s defense in the first meeting, aided by an accurate night of shooting from the perimeter.
Cheney coach Rod Scheer made sure a repeat didn’t occur by alternating Cheney’s defense to a trapping zone that excelled in speeding Garden Plain up and flustered the Owls.
“Our defense has gotten so much better, whether it’s been in the full-court or whether it’s been in the half-court, since the break,” Scheer said. “We wanted to keep that pressure up and try to wear them down a little bit.”
But neither team could convert inside the paint, making the game a back-and-forth defensive tussle. It wasn’t until Albers hit a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter for a 28-23 lead that a team led by more than three points.
Garden Plain rallied to tie the score at 31 with 25 seconds left on a long jump shot by Taylor Joplin, but Cheney responded with Albers’ shot for the go-ahead with seven seconds left. Garden Plain crossed half court on its final attempt, but couldn’t produce a quality look.
“I thought we just had too many mental breakdowns at crucial times,” Garden Plain coach Kody Kasselman said. “Everybody is worried about what this does for our seeding, but I could care less about that. I just want us to grow from this.”
With each team shooting less than 35 percent in the game, Scheer was just pleased to come away with a win.
“We missed a lot of shots and they missed a lot of shots, so honestly, it was kind of an ugly game,” Scheer said. “But in the end, it’s a win against a really good team and we’ll take it.”
GARDEN PLAIN: R. Flax 9, L. Danahy 7, P. Hoheisel 7, T. Joplin 6, A. Gordon 2.
CHENEY: H. Albers 18, K. Smith 10, K. Higgins 2, E. Monson 2, K. Campbell 1.