LEVELLAND- In a contest where points were as precious as a gallon of gas, Nazareth did just enough when it counted and caught a break with a missed free-throw in the closing moments that led to a hard fought 26-24 win over rival Claude in the Region I-1A championship game at the Texan Dome on the campus of South Plains College.
It’s Nazareth’s third straight year to knock the Lady Stangs (23-11) out of the playoffs as the Swiftettes (29-9) now set their focus toward their unprecedented ninth UIL Class 1A state tournament in the past 10 years when Nazareth battles Neches (32-2) in the state semifinals at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“We showed so much grit to win this game,” Nazareth head coach Eric Schilling said. “Claude is a heck of a team. It’s hard to beat a team three straight years so I’m proud of we were able to get this win.”
Both teams struggled from the floor throughout the game. Both teams went a quarter without a field goal, and buckets simply weren’t dropping. Nazareth started the game hot with an 11-2 lead, only to see the Lady Stangs go on a 14-1 second quarter run to go up 16-12 at half. After the scoring only one point in the second, Nazareth buckled down defensively holding Claude to only one point the third to go up 18-17.
“I expected a low scoring game,” Schilling said. “We didn’t it to get up and down. That wasn’t going to fit us. When we had a lead, we were extremely patient. We didn’t shoot it great, but the inside game was huge.”
Nazareth and Claude finally showed offensive life in the final eight minutes. Lady Stang leader Bobbie Renee Fouquet drained a deep 3-pointer tying the game, 20-20, with 5:35 left. The Swiftettes answered in a hurry when Presley Wheeler drained a shot from beyond the arc putting Nazareth on top 23-20, however, Claude came right back with a 3-pointer from Alexis Eddleman and all of sudden it’s 23-23 four minutes left.
The scoring slowed the rest of the way. Claude took a 24-23 advantage until Nazareth got a put back shot from Tatum Peterson to put the Swiftettes in front 25-24 with three minutes left. The game stayed the same with Nazareth making one more free-throw for a 26-24 lead. Claude had a final chance as Fouquet was fouled going up for a shot with only .3 seconds to play. Having to make both free-shots, Foquet, missed the first one that allowed Nazareth to come away with the victory.
“That’s a tough call,” Schilling said. “But it is what it is. When Fouquet goes to the line, you’re thinking overtime for sure. She’s just an excellent player. Luckily for us the shot didn’t go down. I’m just super proud of our effort.”
Fouquet, a senior leader and captain for the Lady Stangs, was embraced by her coach Tori Williams after the play. Williams wanted to make sure and tell her senior that despite the miss, she’s been a special contributor to the program.
“It was a tough moment for Bobbie,” Williams said. “But I told her she will handle a lot harder things then this in life. This game wasn’t on her shoulders and sometimes life doesn’t go your way. She’s been amazing for us. This team has gone through a lot of adversity, and we went through some more in this game.”
Fouquet scored a team-high 19 points for the Lady Stangs. Brooklyn Birkenfeld had her second straight double-digit performance for Nazareth scoring a game-high 11 points.
Claude 2 16 17 24
Nazareth 11 12 18 26
C- Bobbie Renee Fouqet 9, Alexis Eddelman 6. N- Brooklyn Birkenfeld 11, Presley Wheeler 6. Records: Claude 23-11; Nazareth 29-9.