By CRAIG HALL
WILBURTON—Two years ago, Howe lost in the regional tournament to Sasakwa, but the Lady Lions came back a week later in the area tournament to win the rematch and move on to the state tournament.
This year, the Lady Lions lost in the regional tournament last week to Amber-Pocasset and once again got another rematch with the chance to advance to the state tournament.
Unfortunately, this time history did not repeat itself as Amber-Pocasset held Howe scoreless over the final 5:22 and moved on to the state tournament with a 39-30 win over the Lady Lions in the Class 2A Area Consolation finals here Saturday night.
Fourth-ranked Am-Po, which lost for the first time Friday night to Oktaha, advances to the state tournament with a 29-1 record. Howe ends another excellent year with a 26-3 record, with two of the losses coming against the Lady Panthers.
Howe appeared to be in excellent shape early in the fourth quarter. Megan Brown hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three and after a pair of free throws by Am-Po’s Jamie Olsen, Brianna Hillebrand answered with 5:22 left to bring the Lady Lions to within 33-30.
The Lady Lions had two opportunities to cut into the margin, but had a pair of turnovers on both trips down the court.
After the Lady Panthers hit a free throw to increase the lead to 34-30, Howe had another chance but Am-Po’s suffocating defense forced another turnover.
The lead was still four when Michelle Olsen hit a pair of free throws with 1:08 left. Howe could not get good shots and the Lady Panthers added three more free throws for the final 39-30 win.
Unlike last week’s 41-30 win, Howe stayed close early. The Lady Lions had a pair of leads including one in the second quarter after a conventional three-point play by Hillebrand.
But the Lady Panthers’ pressing and trapping defense caused problems for Howe all night, forcing 10 turnovers in the second half and rarely allowing the Lady Lions an uncontested shot.
Despite their height disadvantage against Hillebrand and Abigail McGarrah, Am-Po also rebounded well and got several second and third shots against a Howe team which appeared tired at times in playing their third game in three days and battling the constant pressure from the Lady Panthers.
Jordan Garner was the main weapon for the Lady Panthers, scoring nine of her 15 points in the second half while Olsen added seven.
Howe got a balanced scoring effort, but could not get any players into double figures. McGarrah and Hillebrand each had seven points to lead the Lady Lions while Megan Brown and Brooke Vandever each had six and Tori Kellogg four.