By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

CENTERVILLE – It was a game Grapeland tried to give away, but may well turn out to be a defining moment for a very young Sandiettes’ basketball squad.

The Sandiettes led throughout most of the contest and took a seven point lead into the fourth quarter. The Centerville Lady Tigers, however, mounted a furious comeback and took the lead with under a minute left to play.

Just when it looked like Grapeland was about to let the game slip away, Ragan Bowie nailed a three pointer with 28 seconds remaining to tie the game at 45 and send it into overtime.

In the OT period, the Sandiettes pulled away just enough to hang on for the 53-49 win. The victory closed out the first half of district competition and gave Grapeland a one game lead in the race for the District 20-2A championship.

The game opened with the Sandiettes seizing the early lead before the Lady Tigers’ Tori Tollette dropped in two shots from behind the arc for six points. She was joined in the Centerville scoring by Brittany West with four and Raylynn Brewer with three.

The Sandiettes were paced by Hannah Chipman with four points while both KeKe Harris and Kenya Woods dropped in two.

As the second quarter got underway, the Sandiettes employed a pressure defense which held Centerville to four points on baskets from West and Hannah Matthews.

Meanwhile, Grapeland managed to re-capture their earlier lead on eight points from Chipman as well as a 3-pointer from R. Bowie and a two from Tatiyanna Bowie. The 13 second period points put the Sandiettes up by a score of 21-17 as the two teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.

After the break, the Sandiettes pushed their lead to seven on six points from T. Bowie, 3-pointers from both R. Bowie and Chipman and a two pointer from Woods.

The Lady Tigers posted 11 in the third quarter on five points from Brewer to go along with two points from a trio of Centerville players – Sara Stutzman, Tollett and West – but still found themselves staring up at a 35-28 deficit.

The final period of regulation saw Centerville come storming back to tie the score at 38 with just over five minutes left. The score was tied again at 40 with 3:31 remaining before the Lady Tigers finally pulled ahead with 1:30 left in regulation. When Makayla Neubauer connected on one of two free throws, the score stood at 45-42.

In the fourth quarter, the Lady Tigers had four players – Brewer, Neubauer, West and Sara Stutzman with four apiece while Averi Hancock made one of two from the line.

Chipman scored four for the Sandiettes on four of four shooting from the charity stripe, T. Bowie added three and then there was the three from Ragan Bowie.

Coach Anthony DeCello described Bowie’s game tying shot. “When we lost the lead, we kept battling. Ragan hit another big three for us. We had just told her during the timeout, we’re going to throw a skip (pass) from her sister (Tatiyanna Bowie) and she would be wide open so get ready to knock down a three. Right before that, we had skipped it to her and she didn’t shoot it. We were waiting for that. When she dribbled it back out, I asked her why didn’t she shoot it? The next time it came to her, she was wide open. She hits big shots for us when we need ’em. We really needed it, being we were down by three at that time,” he said.

It seemed the comeback and Bowie’s 3-ball took all the energy out of Centerville during the OT. Brewer scored three while West added one. The Lady Tigers downfall came at the free throw line where they only converted two of seven and ultimately proved to be the difference.

Chipman scored six for Grapeland in the overtime period while T. Bowie hit two clutch free throws to ice the game and give the Sandiettes a 53-49 win.

The Lady Tigers were led in scoring by Raylynn Brewer with 15 and Brittany West with 13 points. Tori Tollett dropped in eight Sara Stutzman had six, Makayla Neubauer dropped in four, Hannah Matthews scored two and Averi Hancock chipped in one.

Hannah Chipman led the way for Grapeland with a game-high 25 points. Tatiyanna Bowie netted 13, Ragan Bowie had nine, Kenya Woods had four and KeKe Harris rounded out he Grapeland scoring with two.

“We knew they were going to be physical. That is a big, strong team and they play great defense. They are well coached and they do things very well, fundamentally. We got hammered on the boards in the third quarter but I thought our kids came back in the fourth. We made some mistakes but we were resilient,” DeCello said.

Commenting on his team’s free throw shooting down the stretch, DeCello said, “I guess hard work does pay off. Since we came back from the Christmas break, we have been shooting tons of free throws when we’re tired and tonight we needed them. I really think it paid off.”

As to sitting at the top of the District 20-2A standings, the coach said, “I told the girls, what more could you ask for? We’re 25-5 overall, 5-0 in district and we’re in first place. We have to go to Lovelady pretty soon and Centerville comes to our place, but what a better a way for a group of young kids to learn the game. It was a game for first place – overtime – and on the road. As young as they are, they keep finding ways to win while I just try and put them in a position to win. They’re a group of winners.”

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.