AUGUSTA — For much of Friday night’s quarterfinal game, there was no stopping Mt. Blue’s Miranda Nicely. The Cougars’ standout senior willed her team toward a near upset against top-ranked Edward Little at the Augusta Civic Center.
But when it mattered most, the Red Eddies got the stop they needed.
Emily Jacques blocked a shot with 30 seconds left and that helped EL hold off Mt. Blue for a thrilling 47-45 win.
“Sometimes you just survive and advance,” EL coach Craig Jipson said. “Tonight, we survived and advanced.”
EL (18-1) moves on to Wednesday’s semifinal round against No. 4 Cony.
Nicely finished with 29 points for the eighth-ranked Cougars (9-11). Down by as many as eight in the fourth, Nicely led the Mt. Blue charge from behind with nine points in the final stanza.
“She’s just a special athlete,” Mt. Blue coach Tom Philbrick said. “I thought she did exactly what we thought she could do. She was loose. She was playing. She was making great decisions with the ball and was moving without the ball on offense. I was real proud of her on the boards and on defense. She just played an all-around game for us.”
After a Molly Murray 3 from the left corner made it 46-38 with 3:19 left, Nicely scored back-to-back baskets. After an Emily Knowles free throw with 2:01 left that made it 46-43, Nicely got the rebound of the second free throw and scored to make it 46-45.
On EL’s next possession, Jacques missed a shot and then a travelling call gave Mt. Blue the ball back. That gave Nicely the chance for the lead.
After Mt. Blue worked the ball around to set up an opportunity, Nicely drove toward the basket on the right side where Jacques was waiting for her.
“I saw her coming,” said Jacques, who finished with nine points and seven blocks. “I knew I could either take a charge or block the shot. I was afraid if I took the charge that I might get a foul on me. S0 I just tried to block it.”
Mt. Blue got one more chance, but it was brief. On an EL inbounds pass at midcourt, defensive pressure by Caitlin Kane on Tianna Harriman forced a double dribble with 16 seconds left. When Nicely tried to inbounds the ball, Harriman stole it right back. She then was fouled and hit a free throw to seal it.
“That steal with 16 seconds left, I thought we’d get a good look there,” Philbrick said. “Either Miranda would get a good look or she’d move it to Kiana (Thompson) or Caitlin. Addy (Brinkman) was playing tough inside. So I thought we were going to get a good look.”
After being the top seed and losing to Cony last year in the quarterfinals, this game was a little too close for comfort for the Red Eddies.
“It’s hard to win here,” Jipson said. “We learned that last year. So to do that, we have to get mentally and physically tougher.”
Norcross led EL with 12 points. Along with Jacques, Brooke Reynolds also had nine. Eraleena Hairston added eight. For Mt. Blue, Brinkman finished with eight.
“It was a little rough but we pulled it through,” Jacques said.
Nicely paced the Cougars in the opening quarter with 10 of Mt. Blue’s first 12 points. Despite shooting 4-for-13 in the quarter, EL kept close and tied the game in the final seconds on a Norcoss 3 from half court. Reynolds had the first six points for EL in the game.
In the second quarter, the Red Eddies opened the lead. EL started to get some rhythm offensively and Mt. Blue couldn’t answer regularly.
The Cougars were held to just eight points in the second quarter. Nicely and Kane each had four. Only three Mt. Blue players scored in the first half.
After two Kane free throws, EL scored seven straight. Hairston scored twice in the post. Then Harriman took a Reynolds pass and converted a three-point play.
Kane and Nicely each scored for the Cougars to make it 19-18, but EL finished off the half with a 9-2 run. After a Reynolds basket Nicely scored to make it 21-20. Then Molly Murray scored on a backdoor play. Jacques scored on a Harriman pass on an inbounds play. After a free throw by Reynolds, Norcoss hit a pair from the line to make it 28-20.
EL had the lead up to 10 in the third after a Norcross 3 and a three-point play by Jacques. A Nicely rebound late in the quarter made it 40-32 entering the fourth.
“We had 28 points at halftime,” Jipson said. “It wasn’t the offensive part. It was the defense. We haven’t been a great defensive team all year.”
In the fourth EL struggled from the floor and watched Mt. Blue seize the momentum. The Red Eddies missed its first five shots and finished 2-for-12 in the quarter.
A 3 by Nicely made it 41-38 but Murray’s 3 from the corner game EL some breathing room at 46-38 – at least for a moment. The Cougars outscored EL 7-1 the rest of the game.
“I thought Miranda Nicely played like an absolute warrior,” said Jipson. “Our whole focus was on her. One of the games, she had 20 of their 27 points against us.”