Champions!Trojans clinch outright Southeast Conference title with thrilling 46-39 overtime win over host Keokuk
KEOKUK — The Fairfield Trojans clinched the outright Southeast Conference championship after defeating host Keokuk 46-39 in an overtime thriller on Friday night.
“We totally deserve this championship,” said Trojan senior Kylie Kurtz. “For us seniors, we never wanted anything more than this — the championship. We won it our sophomore season (2014-15) and Keokuk got it last year. We wanted it back. And we were not interested in sharing the title this year with them — not at all.”
Had Keokuk (11-6, 5-2) pulled off the home win on Friday, the Chiefs and Trojans (14-5, 7-0) would have been co-champions.
“All year long, I talked to our kids about being selfless,” said Trojan head coach Mick Flattery. “Tonight, before the game, I wrote down on the blackboard ‘Team: Selfish.’ I said, ‘Tonight, I’m asking you to be selfish and go win this title for yourselves — not to share it.’
“Well, our girls wanted this title for themselves, they showed incredible grit and won it. They definitely earned it.”
The contest was tied 6-6 after one quarter and Keokuk led 18-12 at halftime. The Chiefs led 26-24 heading into the fourth quarter, and 33-32 with 2:49 to play.
The Trojan defense, led by its designated stopper Kurtz, stiffened and forced a travelling call with 1:52 left.
Kurtz’s job was to stop Keokuk’s talented point guard Michaela Davis, and Kurtz came through with a fabulous performance. With Kurtz in her face non-stop, Davis never got in any kind of rhythm.
The engine of the Chiefs, Davis only had three field goals all game, one each in the second and third quarters and her final basket came with 6:35 left in the fourth.
“Kylie did such a great job on Michaela Davis,” Flattery said. “Kylie likes that challenge. She knows it may sacrifice her offense to guard such great players but the prettiest stat is a win, and that’s more important to Kylie and all our kids than personal stats.”
Said Kurtz, “When Coach says I have a certain player and she is not to touch the ball, I take it to heart. That’s what Coach expects of me and I’ll give that to him and I owe it to my teammates, too.”
With 1:13 to go, Kurtz’s senior teammate Sam Fritz made an inside cut, received a nifty feed from point guard Nicole Buch, canned the deuce and Fairfield led 34-33.
Keokuk hit two free throws with 1:01 to go and took a one-point lead.
Fritz took the inbounds pass and then made a spectacular play. With about 82 feet ahead of her, Fritz kept her dribble, picking up steam at halfcourt, then firing up to a higher gear once she hit the arc, then, quite incredibly, dribbled past three defenders, banked home her layup — and Fairfield took back the lead 36-35.
“Sami didn’t stop,” said Flattery. “We trust our veteran leadership. You can’t over-coach them, that’s really important. Let them play, they’ll figure it out, and Sami went ahead and made a fantastic play.”
Said Fritz, “I knew we were in the double bonus and we were trying to get to the hoop. I saw a smidge of an opening and decided to take it.”
Fairfield scored with 13 seconds to go, taking back the lead.
With 4.4 seconds to play, trailing by one, Fairfield senior Brooke McLain stood out of bounds, a few feet from Flattery.
Kurtz, senior Mikaela Lunsford and Buch lined up a few feet apart along the left side of the paint. Fritz stood alone on the other side of the paint.
At once, Fritz broke behind the arc, then in front of McLain, then raced toward the hoop. McLain fed Fritz who beat the clock with a shot and got fouled.
Needing a made free throw to force overtime, Fritz came through, the score was 37-37, and four more minutes were put on the clock.
With the score still tied, Lunsford drove and scored with 2:53 left. Buch scored off a drive with 1:42 to go and the Trojans lead was four, 41-37.
With 1:04 left, the championship-clinching play was made.
Still holding a four-point lead, McLain stood out of bounds at halfcourt. Kurtz made a move toward the backcourt. McLain gave the ball-fake of a lifetime. Kurtz then sprinted toward the Keokuk bucket — and was all alone.
McLain delivered the rock and Kurtz delivered the deuce with a layup.
The game was over. The shoulders and heads of the Chief players collectively sank.
“Brooke made a beautiful decision,” Flattery said. “It’s the little things that can win big games. Brooke made the ball-fake and they bit and Kylie was wide open.”
Said McLain, “They were guarding Kylie too closely. It actually is the play we want — for Kylie to go to the basket but it’s usually covered. So I ball-faked, looked down the court and Kylie was sprinting to the basket. It was there. Kylie was wide open.”
McLain finished the contest with three points, three rebounds and two assists. Fritz scored nine points, her biggest bucket, of course, the championship clincher.
“Brooke made the great ball-fake,” Kurtz said. “It’s the little things that count. It was such a great pass. They were overplaying so I took them one way and went the other.”
Buch scored seven points and made six steals. Lunsford scored 11 points, five in overtime, grabbed three boards and made three steals. Also for Fairfield, Ashley Bloomquist and Kara Jeffrey each made a steal.
Fritz was sensational.
The 5-foot-8 guard-forward had a game-high 12 rebounds — simply put, Fritz wants that basketball off the glass more than any foe she faces — and made three steals.
Fritz scored a game-high 16 points, all in the second half, which included two treys.
“It’s nice to win this title outright,” Fritz said. “Our goal is to win this championship every year and we didn’t have it last year. In overtime, we decided we wanted it more than them and it was time to go take it.”
Said McLain, “Coach really got us fired up tonight. He said, ‘We must want this more than them.’ He told us that we’ve worked too hard not to have this title for ourselves. We definitely had no interest in sharing this title with anyone.”
“Well,” said Lunsford, “it feels great to be the champs — all by ourselves.”