(Cover photo: JCTMS basketball players and cheerleaders “dab” to celebrate their second-straight LIT Girls Championship victory after defeating Crosby 45-41)
By Ashli McLean
The 8th grade Centurions team of Jefferson County Traditional Middle School (JCTMS) defeated the Crosby Cougars by a close 45-41 on Saturday in the 2016 ClassAct Junior LIT Girls Championship. A fourth quarter rally led by Erin Toller pushed the Centurions ahead for the win.
“I felt really good,” said Toller on shifting the trajectory of the game in the final minute. “We all contributed as a team together and I got my teammates involved after I sat out on the bench for most of the second quarter. So we all contributed pretty good to the team… It feels great. It feels good. I’m excited.”
It was Toller who opened the game scoring in the first 15 seconds with a three to take JCTMS up 3-0, but, ironically, she grabbed her second foul with just over three minutes left in the quarter and watched most of the game from the bench through the half.
Led by Crosby’s leading scorer Destinee Marshall, the Cougars starting pulling ahead in the second quarter. In the opening minute, Marshall made her way around the arc to find Taziah Jenks off to her left. Jenks dished it in the paint to Naria Reed for a layup that gave Crosby a 12-7 lead.
With 53.3 seconds before the half, a controversial foul was called in favor of Crosby’s Bailey Stumpf. As she slowly picked herself up with the help of a coach, teammate Anna McDaniel shot the free throws for her to give the Cougars a 19-12 lead to close the quarter.
With his team down by seven, JCTMS head coach Michael Moore told them, “[It’s] time to dig deep.”
They could hear Crosby’s team in the other locker room excited about the lead. He told his girls, “We’ve got to show them what we’re made of. Let’s show them we can be a team that’s used to winning, but trailing, we can fight back and win…so it’s all about showing how bad you want it and do you have it in you to come back when trailing.”
Teammate Alana Striverson shot a three in the corner to cut JCTMS’ deficit by just four (21-17) with 3:19 left in the third quarter, but it was Toller who brought some much-needed speed for her team, as well as a few free throws, when she came back in the game full-force. Toller’s free throw with less than a minute and a half left tied the game at 26.
However, Marshall fired back with a three to finish the quarter 29-26. That was her second three of the quarter, her fourth in the game. Toller scored eight points in the that third quarter.
And the fourth quarter was all about Toller and Marshall going head to head.
With 3:55 left, Toller tied the game at 32 with a steal off Reed who was holding the ball up high on the free throw line and didn’t see Toller sneak around to knock it out of her hands. On the next possession, Marshall was fouled and hit both free throws for a 34-32 Crosby lead, but Toller got another layup to tie the game again.
At the 2:56 mark, Marshall made a three from about five feet out (37-36).
“She’s an incredible player and definitely has a big future in regards to high school and beyond,” said Moore on Marshall. Marshall finished with a total 22 points.
The game changer came with 34 seconds left when Toller stole the ball from Marshall and drove 3/4 down the court for the layup to take Crosby up 41-38. A few seconds later, she also made both of her free throws for 43-38 lead.
With the game on the line, Marshall ran full speed to find Jenks waiting in the corner for the three. She made it, which cut Crosby’s lead 43-41 with 15.2 seconds left, and Crosby head coach Paul Sehlinger immediately called a full timeout. Jenks finished with nine points.
In the end, however, both Striverson and Toller would make a free throw to secure the 45-41 win.
Toller scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, 22 total on the night. Corinne Butcher added 10.
It was a great way to finish a season for a team that went undefeated 19-0 (including Queen of the Bluegrass tournament games). Considering JCTMS’ 15-0 record from last year, they currently pose a 34-0 JCPS winning record.
They defeated Noe 53-43 in last year’s LIT championship.
“In the championship games, it always comes to [down] being a classic,” added Moore. “You know, regardless of what the regular season was…it always comes to be a thriller like that.”
JCTMS will return four, sixth graders and four, seventh graders next year. “Definitely looking to go for that three-peat and try to build a dynasty here over the course of a couple of years,” concluded Moore.