In making one of her few starts of the season, Macen Stripling came up big for the Decatur Lady Eagles Thursday.
Stripling poured in a team-high 21 points and hit the game-winning 15-foot jumper with 36 seconds left in overtime to lift the Decatur Lady Eagles to a 51-50 win over the Gainesville Lady Leopards in the District 9-3A tiebreaker at Bennie Ennis Gym in Krum.
“I knew this was a big game and we needed the momentum going into the playoffs. I knew I had to come out strong,” Stripling said. “I wanted the ball and wanted to be aggressive and help us get as many possessions as possible.”
With the victory, Decatur (22-5) moved on to play the third co-champion in District 9-3A, Krum, at 8 p.m. Friday at Sanger High School for the league’s top playoff seed.
“We’re going to come out strong and ready to play,” Stripling said.
Gainesville dropped to the third seed and will open the playoffs next week against District 10-3A runner-up and the state’s third-ranked team, Celina, in the bi-district round.
Gainesville led 50-49 in the final minute of overtime. Decatur worked the ball around before Stripling got it at the left elbow of the free-throw line. She quickly turned around and drained the 15-footer to put her team in front.
“I didn’t know how much time was left,” Stripling admitted. “I shot it and if I missed it, I was going to go after the rebound. Luckily, it went in.”
After the shot gave Decatur the lead, the Lady Eagles needed a defensive stop. Gainesville called a timeout with 11.3 seconds remaining. After the timeout, Gainesville’s Chandler Kemp tried to pass the ball to the Lady Leopards’ leading scorer Ariannah Kemp. Decatur’s Haley Dennard stepped into the passing lane and made a steal to preserve the win for the Lady Eagles.
“That last possession, the defense was big,” Garner said. “We were going to help off [Chandler Kemp] if she got rid of the ball. We felt sure they would try to get the ball to Ariannah. Haley face-guarded her and made it tough to get the pass to her. They couldn’t have done a better job.”
To get to overtime, the Lady Eagles needed a series of comebacks. Gainesville opened the game on an 11-1 run over the first three minutes.
After a pair of Dennard free throws, the experienced Decatur squad steadied itself and ended the first quarter on a 10-1 run to pull within one, 12-11.
“We kept telling ourselves to keep our heads in the game,” Stripling said. “The bad start made us mad. It helped us out a lot.”
Gainesville led 23-21 at halftime with neither team building more than a two-point lead until early in the fourth quarter. After Ariannah Kemp hit a 3-pointer, she blocked a shot at the other end to start a fast-break that ended with Cozy Avery’s layup. That was the start of a 9-3 run that put Gainesville up 43-38 with 1:37 left.
Stripling then made a hard drive the basket for a layup and drew a foul. She hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play and bring Decatur back to within two.
After a Gainesville basket, Stripling hit three free throws within a 20-second span to cut the deficit to 45-44.
Chandler Kemp hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to put the Lady Leopards back up two. Decatur’s Traci Hale, who was replaced by Stripling in the starting lineup, tied the game at 46 with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.
Hale finished with six points and seven rebounds.
With a chance to win the game, Ariannah Kemp, who scored 24 points, made a hard drive to the basket with 3 seconds left. She was called for a charge, ensuring the game would go to overtime.
The Lady Eagles made the plays in overtime to give them a shot at the league’s top seed Friday.