North Jackson girls basketball head coach Josh Wright huddled his players together during a timeout in the fourth quarter and mentioned the low point of the Chiefs’ season.
That low point was squandering a 15-point second-half lead in a 60-59 loss to DAR at home on Jan. 8. DAR’s press forced numerous North Jackson turnovers, allowing it to rally for the win.
In Wednesday’s Class 4A Area 14 Tournament championship game, DAR was trying to re-create that moment. But North Jackson decided to rewrite the script.
North Jackson held on this time, defeating DAR 50-47 to win the Class 4A Area 14 Area Tournament Championship at DAR’s Burkey Center in Grant.
“We had our moments — definitely had our moments — but they were resilient. They wanted it,” Wright said of his players. “In one of the last timeouts, I reminded them about that [loss], reminded them how that felt. ‘Are you going to be winners this time? Here’s your chance.’”
It was the second straight season the Chiefs won the area tournament on DAR’s home court.
“Two in a row,” Wright said. “Proud of the players.”
North Jackson (17-13) earned the right to host a Class 4A Northeast Sub-regional game Monday at 7 p.m. against Area 12 runner-up Fairview (17-10). Meanwhile, DAR (17-12) travels to play Area 12 champion Oneonta (24-6).
Sarah Morgan scored 15 points and Josie Thompson netted 11 for North Jackson, which also got seven from Kassidy Holder and six each from Amber Atkins and Macy Lyda. Tori Nickell scored 10 points for DAR, which also got nine each from Julia Rice and Peyton Lankford and seven from Brianna Bolt.
The game was the first for Holder, the Chiefs’ senior point guard, since she suffered a hand injury in that loss to DAR back in January. Wright said her return was a lift for the Chiefs.
“It was huge her being back,” Wright said. “She’s cried before every game we’ve played because she’s wanted to be out there. The girls wanted here out there. They felt more confident with here out there.”
Holder, who helped the Chiefs better attack DAR’s press than that Jan. 8 meeting, endured cramps in her calf muscles to “battle through” a game she said she wouldn’t have “missed for anything. It was tough, I was hurting, but it was amazing to be back. I just had to be mentally strong and I pushed through because I wanted to win.”
The game was a low-scoring defensive grind, with neither team shooting well and while being plagued by turnovers. North Jackson led 12-9 after one quarter 23-21 at halftime. With the game tied 31-all, the Chiefs outscored DAR 7-2 over the final 2:56 of the third quarter to claim a lead it would never relinquish.
Holder’s free throw gave the Chiefs a 32-31 lead, while Summer Varnum’s runner off the glass, Thompson’s two free throws and Morgan’s layup after a steal gave North Jackson a 38-33 lead entering the final quarter.
Back-to-back baskets from Atkins helped North Jackson lead by as many as eight early in the fourth quarter, but DAR forced four straight North Jackson turnovers and pulled to within 42-39 with 5:05 left. But Morgan answered with a basket for North Jackson on its ensuing possession, and a free throw from Paige Dunn, a Morgan putback and a Holder free throw put the Chiefs up 48-41 with 2:08 remaining. DAR ultimately got within three on Bolt’s 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left, but North Jackson was able to run out the clock before DAR could foul.
Atkins said the Chiefs were excited to get an opportunity to avenge last month’s bitter loss to the Patriots.
“It motivated us so much,” she said. “We made mistakes in that game. We were not going to make them again and let them beat us again.”