Toppers topple Central in OT

By: Conor Revell

A lot was on the line when Central and Presentation met on the hardwood in a big 25th District game Thursday night.

The winner would earn the two-seed in the district tournament and only has to win one game to secure a spot in the Seventh Region Tournament while the loser would have to win twice.

It had a March Madness feel and the contest came down to the wire with the host Toppers defeating visiting Central 81-78 in overtime for their first win in the series since 2015.

“We probably played our best game of the year tonight,” Presentation head coach David Jackson said. “We have had five or six minute stretches where we have scoring droughts and miss a ton of layups. Tonight, we did have a couple of bad stretches early where we fell behind eight, nine points but we stuck with it and then we started to hit our shots.”

Both teams shot lights out from beyond the arc as Presentation (14-8) hit eight three pointers and Central (9-12) drained 11 triples.

Four Toppers combined for 77 of their 81 points.

Courtney Jackson led the way with 27 points, five rebounds, and made 10 of 20 from the field including 2 of 3 from three-point land.

“A lot of my shots were going in,” Courtney Jackson said. “They were mainly from the corner and around the basket. My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball. We were all working together.”

The junior had only made one three-pointer all-season coming into tonight.

“She hit a couple of three pointers which was huge and a couple of jump shots,” David Jackson said. “They spread the defense quite a bit which helped her get some big offensive boards. That was huge and when you get a couple of extra shots, it helps a lot.”

Point guard Lilly Stephenson added 21 points and didn’t play the final minute of regulation or overtime because she fouled out.

“I was nervous sitting on the bench,” Stephenson said. “I would have felt so bad had we lost. Jaelin (Thompson) and Julia (Vogt) hit some clutch free throws. I knew that once we got the momentum that they would be able to get the win without me.”

Lauren Nunnelley recorded 17 points and hit all four of her three-pointers in the second half and OT. The senior had only scored four points at halftime.

“I have really focused on having an arc with my shot,” Nunnelley said. “Lately it has been really flat so I have been working on that a lot in practice.

Julia Vogt added 12 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter and overtime, and hauled in seven rebounds.

Precious Hereford led Central with 21 points and hit five three pointers. Shamaria Stikes added 15 points and Stephonie Cole added 10 points.

“She’s a senior and a leader,” Central head coach Jana Costner said of Hereford. “She understands that role, accepts that role, and does a phenominal job of being a senior and one of our team captains. I commend her for playing well.”

The game featured four ties and 12 lead changes, 11 of those occurred in the second half.

Central led the entire first half and held a 35-30 halftime lead. Pres scored the first five points of the second half to tie it and even led twice.

“I think we started to shut them down by not letting them down the lane,” Nunnelley said. “In the first half we were letting them driving over and over again and that allowed them to get easy layups.”

But the Yellowjackets responded and would lead by five points once more in the third quarter and three times in the fourth quarter.

Pres trailed 72-68 before Courtney Jackson hit a layup and her team made two straight stops in a row. Julia Vogt tied the game at 72 hitting two free throws with 16.6 seconds to go forcing overtime.

“In the first half we had a lot of energy,” Costner said. “We had set some goals for the players to accomplish and they did that. They were motivated by that. We were kind of shorthanded today and that may have hurt us a little bit in the second half.”

Central’s Precious Hereford opened the overtime period with a three-pointer putting the Toppers in a 75-72 hole.

“We had to figure out how to stop them from driving to the middle,” Courtney Jackson said. “Once we got that stopped, No. 11 (Hereford) got on fire hitting three after three so we had to figure out how to get to her. We had to communicate defensively.”

Nunnelley tied the game at 75 the next possession when she nailed a triple from the left wing.

“She does this in practice a lot but has never really settled into a game and done it before,” David Jackson said. “She hit a lot of big shots down the stretch and that was really huge and good to see because we needed it.”

Vogt (3 of 4) and Jaelin Thompson (1 of 2 then scored four straight points for Pres, all at the free throw line giving the Toppers a 79-75 advantage and Central never recovered.

The loss means Central will have to play Portland Christian in the 25th District quarterfinals and the winner of that game will face Pres 24 hours later in the semifinals with the winner earning a spot in the Seventh Region Tournament.