PARK HILLS — The 16th straight win. The 10-0 home record. The No. 24 ranking in the country. The list keeps going, and now, the top seed in the Region XVI Tournament is added to it.
Three Rivers overcame a huge run from Mineral Area in the third quarter to pull away from the Cardinals with an 82-68 win in Park Hills.
The Lady Raiders had a 17-point lead in the third quarter before the Cardinals (19-6, 6-2 Region XVI) erased that and jumped ahead by a point with under a minute to go in the third. Hailee Erickson, though, showed her sophomore resolve with a huge sequence.
"Every good basketball team is going to make a run, and Mineral Area is a good basketball team," Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. "They're not just going to roll over and quit playing. … You just can't get excited, keep the kids calm, and like I told the kids, we weathered that storm and we came back in the fourth quarter. That's great mental toughness."
She drew a blocking foul to get the Lady Raiders (22-3, 9-0 Region XVI) in the bonus with 3.3 seconds to go in the quarter, giving the visitors the lead again, one they wouldn't give up for the rest of the game. The Lady Raiders forced a turnover on defense and set up in their half-court set. Erickson used a screen from Deanay Watson to slip past her defender and get to the basket for a layup.
The Lady Raiders forced another turnover, and Erickson stepped up once again with a pull-up 3-pointer in front of her bench to stretch the lead to six points. She stole the ensuing in-bounds pass and laid it home for two more as the Lady Raiders had all the momentum on their side with a 9-0 run.
"That might be the turning point in that game at that time," Walk said. "That deflates them."
Erickson led Three Rivers with 23 points and six assists.
"They were rolling, and I know if we didn't start scoring and start getting things in the basket, that game could easily go a totally different way," Erickson said. "So, you know, after I got the one, and then I hit another, I started feeling it."
With around six minutes to go, Masyn McWilliams cut the lead to two points with a catch-and-shoot trey. Katelyn South came up with a big 3 in response to grow the lead again. The Lady Raiders responded with two straight baskets on the same play as Deanay Watson and Hannah Thurmon both went to set screens and slipped to the basket for easy layups.
"(The run) was big," Watson said. "We were still like, OK, we're still in the game. We don't need to give up just because we're ahead, so we need to continue to work hard, fight hard and do our best."
Watson tallied a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds on a 9 of 14 shooting day.
That sequence started a 12-0 run to ice the game as Kim Shaw continued the run with a basket, and Erickson capped it with a 3-pointer on the wing to put the Lady Raiders ahead by 14 again. Mineral Area never cut the Lady Raiders lead to single digits for the remainder of the game as the visitors held on to lock up the top seed in the region tournament.
The team effort helped ward off 27 points and 17 rebounds from Holly Forbes, who was getting solid looks around the basket from the post for the first three quarters, but Three Rivers buckled down when it needed to.
The Lady Raiders once again had balanced offensive production. They finished with four players in double figures. Thurmon and South both added 12 points to complement the big days from Erickson and Watson.
Three Rivers added 20 points off the bench despite J'Kayla Fowler having to miss her third straight game with an ankle injury and An'Nyah Pettus only logging three minutes total and not attempting a shot. Forbes had 17 of Mineral Area's 29 rebounds, and the Lady Raiders finished with a plus-11 rebounding margin.
With the win, the Lady Raiders also wrapped up their conference, winning the Missouri Community College Athletic Conference.
Three Rivers will get another week off before visiting Crowder for their regular-season finale at 2 p.m. Feb. 23.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic