In what might very well be the best comeback in Section 5 girls basketball this season, the No. 2 Lyons Lions overcame a 17-point deficit with a minute, 54 seconds left in the third quarter to claw their way back to a nail-biting, bleacher-rocking 58-57 victory over No. 3 Harley-Allendale-Columbia. Lyons junior Hannah Lester hit a 5-foot bank shot just outside the paint on the right side with 6.1 left on the clock that proved to be the game winner.
Lions sophomore guard Ja’teria Wells fueled the Lions (18-2) with 10 first-quarter points en route to her career high 23 on the night. With 1:22 left in the first quarter Lyons held on to a 15-9 lead, but HAC (18-3) managed to cut the lead to three points as Kayli O’Keefe dropped in the first of her four 3-pointers on the night. The Lyons turned the ball over and freshman Abby O’Keefe drove the lane, bringing the Wolves within one to end the first frame.
After inbounding the ball to start the second quarter HAC took its first lead of the game as Kayli O’Keefe made a nice move down the middle, knocking down a bucket to make it 16-15. Wells picked right back where she left off in the first half as she drove hard to the hoop and the Lions regained the lead.
Lyons junior Gator Shields then extended the lead to three after she hit a shot under the bucket and was fouled. Shields converted the free throw and Lyons led 20-16 with five minutes left in the first half. Jenny Scudder brought the Wolves fans to their feet with 4:53 left in the second when she drained the first of three triples on the night, closing the gap to one, 20-19.
Trailing 24-23, Scudder took quick advantage of a Lyons three-second violation with 1:15 left to play in the second as she cashed in her second 3-pointer of the quarter to reclaim the lead for the moment. Ryenn Smith tied the contest at 26 as she dropped in two free throws after being fouled by Kayli O’Keefe to bring the half to a close.
After taking a brief lead on a Shields free throw, the Lions soon found themselves trailing 29-27, behind another 3-pointer from that spurred a 7-1 run for the Wolves that made it 33-27. With 5:54 left in the quarter, Lyons coach Eric Kuhn was forced to call a time out. The time out didn’t seem to stop the bleeding as the Wolves continued to outscore the Lions over the next three minutes 17-6, building a 17-point lead with 1:54 left in the third.
But momentum started to change in the time span of 6.2 seocnds. Lyons inbounded the ball to Smith who drove the length of the court scoring as the third quarter came to an end, leaving the Lions behind 52-37.
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“We talked about how they shot the lights out in the third quarter scoring 26 points,” Lyons coach Eric Kuhn said. “I called time out late and saw the girls’ chins were down a little. I talked to a couple of them to keep everybody up. I thought even though we were getting beat by a considerable lead, we were talking about Lyons pride and even if we were getting beat by 30 or 50 we would leave our guts out on the floor until the final whistle.”
HAC opened the final period inbounding the ball, but it was the Lions who scored the first four points on back-to-back buckets by Taylor DiSanto. Smith brought the Lyons’ deficit to single digits for the first time since the 4-minute mark of the third quarter when she hit a turn-around jumper from about 8 feet straight in front of the hoop, causing the Lyons crowd to erupt and HAC coach Terri Leonard to call her first time out of the evening.
The lead was cut to eight as Wells picked off a pass and drove three-quarters of the court driving hard to the hole for another two. DiSanto made the first of two freebies, leaving the Lions trailing 56-48 with 3:19 left in the game. DiSanto picked up her fourth foul to send Kayli O’Keefe to the line, where she made one to make it a nine-point game.
Trailing still by eight with under three minutes to play, Shields pulled down one of her 13 rebounds on the night, then drove down the right side of the court, hesitated for a split second and tossed up Lyons’ only 3-pointer of the night that hit nothing but net with 2:12 to play. Suddenly the Lions were only down 57-52 and HAC called another time out.
“Today, Ja’teria was taking it to the rack, she missed a few free-throws early, but made some clutch ones late,” Kuhn said. “I thought spreading that offense out high in the middle of the third quarter, even though it was the same two offenses, our girls we getting penetration. We got a ton of free throws (17 of 28) and starting knocking those down and got some easy shots. We made some jump shots and Gator hit that three to cut it to five and the girls never gave up.”
Wells brought Lyons to within three after another strong drive to the iron with 51 seconds to play and then nailed two crucial free throws with 10.3 left to play, leaving the Lions down by only one point, 57-56. After a Lyons timeout, HAC inbounded the ball, but heads-up defense by Smith and Wells led to the ball going out of bounds off of O’Keefe in the left corner.
With 9.8 ticks left on the clock Smith inbounded the ball to Wells who dribbled a few times, passed it back to Smith who made a break for the basket and then made a spectacular pass to Lester. With 6.1 seconds left on the clock, Lester hit the 5-foot bank shot to give Lyons the 58-57 lead.
Page 3 of 3 - “We were little nervous getting the ball in, we got kind of trapped in the corner, but we got free,” Kuhn said. “Ryenn made break to the basket and I’m waiting for her to shoot, she passes it and I look over and it’s Lester and I’m like, oh, one time, and she banked it in with a few seconds to go. I’m happy for Hannah. I get on her case and I ride her a lot, but to make that shot she can put in her back pocket for along time.”
The Lions defense denied HAC from crossing mid-court, sealing the victory.
“We kept our heads up and we didn’t get down on ourselves,” Lester said. “ I feel happy, ecstatic, great.”
Shields finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, while Smith added nine points, three steals, and nine boards.
HAC was paced by Scudder’s 24 points and 20 from O’Keefe.
Lyons will meet Bishop Kearney in the Section 5 Class C2 Championship Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Gates-Chili High School.