BY TRAVIS DAVID
PALMYRA — It was not for a big trophy but Emma Ross and her Mark Twain teammates did not care. The Lady Tigers picked up their second win of the Tony Lenzini Tournament to claim the consolation championship, in thrilling fashion, over No. 5 seed Highland Friday evening.
Playing for the “other” trophy did not stop the Lady Tigers from celebrating like they had just won a bigger game.
The jubilation from the Mark Twain locker room could easily be heard from the court and beyond after the 52-47 win.
“It was just a really exciting win,” Ross said. “It felt like we stepped over a line tonight as a program. We know this was not for first or second or third, but getting fifth place in this tournament felt just as good because it showed just how good we can be.”
Ross played a big part in the win as she netted 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and three steals. The senior tallied nine of her team-high points in the first quarter as the No. 7 seeded Tigers jumped out to a 15-1 lead.
But Highland found its rhythm midway through the second.
Ansley Bringer scored six of the last eight points in the half to pull the Lady Cougars to within 21-16 at the break.
“We knew they would make a run at us,” second-year Mark Twain coach Matt Boswell said. “We saw it against Hannibal and again against Van-Far so we kept telling the girls that our lead was not safe…you have to give a lot of credit to Highland for chipping away.”
A baseline drive by Bringer put the Cougars ahead, 24-23, with four minutes left in the third period. It was the first lead of the game for Highland.
But it would be short-lived.
Liz Trower found Autumn Arndt cutting hard toward the basket on the Tigers’ next possession to regain the lead. Arndt extended the Tigers lead with another bucket before dishing out an assist to Emily Evans for a 29-23 lead with just over three minutes left in the third.
Despite turning the ball over seven times in the period, the Lady Tigers still managed to carry a 36-32 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
Then the two teams gave the sparse crowd inside the Palmyra Middle School Gym their money’s worth.
Summer Goings and Trower traded 3-pointers in the opening two minutes of the final period. Goings’ second triple pulled the Cougars to within 39-38 with 6:07 left on the clock. After a turnover, the Cougars grabbed their second lead of the game when Meleah Eisenberg scored on a rebound basket with 5:10 left in the game.
Again, the lead would be short-lived.
Zoe Miller put the Tigers back in front when she took a pass from Anna Echternacht and drained a triple from the top of the key. Miller’s only bucket of the second half gave Mark Twain a 42-40 lead with 4:51 left in the game.
“Zoe missed last season because of injury but she has been such a strong role player for us this season,” the Tigers’ coach said of his 5-foot-5-inch senior. “She leads our teams in floor burns on loose balls so it was awesome to see her step up when we needed her tonight.”
Ross extended the Tigers’ lead to 44-40 on a drive before Highland made one final push.
The Cougars pulled even at 46 apiece on a 3-pointer from Marissa Abell with 3:00 left on the clock.
After another Mark Twain turnover, Highland had a chance to take another lead.
But Evans had other ideas.
The Tiger junior came up with a steal near midcourt and converted at the other end for a 48-46 lead with 45 seconds left in the game.
“Such a great moment for her,” Boswell said of his former bench player. “She got the chance to start for us when we had some girls out due to being quarantined and she has not let go of that spot since. She has outworked everyone in practice and it was great to see her make the game-turning play for us tonight.”
Trower and Ross sealed the win with a pair of free throws apiece in the final 25 seconds.
Trower finished with 13 points while Arndt and Evans added eight points apiece.
Ross mentioned the win was special because of the way so many different players on the team contributed.
“The big thing about this win is that a lot of girls stepped up when we needed them the most,” the senior leader said of her teammates. “They got a lot of things thrown at them and they all stepped up and did their job right. It is just amazing because we all have worked our butts off and we did this as a team, not just one person.”
Bringer led the Cougars with a game-high 16 points, while Abell finished with 13 in the loss.
Mark Twain improved to 7-8 on the season.
“It’s hard to say just how proud I am of this team,” Boswell said. “This is a really tough tournament so for us to come away with two wins, I could not be happier with how this team battled. For two years now we have been trying to develop a winning culture that has been missing. But the girls are stepping up and proving they can be winners.”