SPEEDWAY — The Covenant Christian Warriors ended their season against the Monrovia Bulldogs, 42-40, in Saturday night’s Sectional 44 final.
Monrovia started the second half by backing the Warriors into a corner with a 6-0 run that resulted in their largest lead of the game, 29-20. Covenant Christian cut the lead to one point after an 8-0 streak at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs responded by putting the Warriors in a six-point hole with under a minute left to play.
Covenant Christian wouldn’t go away quietly, though.
“This was a unique group. Even when there was 20 seconds to go in the game, there was the same look in their eyes when I looked at our girls in the huddle; they didn’t think they were going to lose,” Covenant Christian coach Joe Smith said. “We’ve been down before. We we’ve been down 12, we’ve been down nine and we’ve been down 14 and come back and won, so I wasn’t worried. I thought we would come back.”
Kaitlyn Luikhart drained a 3-pointer to cut the Monrovia lead in half. On the Warriors’ next offensive possession, Kylie Bright was fouled with 15 seconds left. Bright hit both free throws to pull Covenant Christian within one.
The Warriors fouled trying to extend the game, and Monrovia hit one of its final four free throw attempts. With no timeouts left, Covenant’s Rachel McLimore pushed the ball downcourt with 10 seconds left, until a swarming Bulldogs defense forced a pass to Ashley King in the corner. King picked up her dribble and Monrovia trapped her, forcing a frantic last-gasp-heave with two seconds left that never made it to the rim.
“Our last possession, we were trying to push the ball and score in transition. If we couldn’t score in transition we wanted to run high ball screens with Rachel and Hannah Blakley and put Mary Tingle down low,” Smith said of the strategy. “Our girls did a pretty good job pushing it up the floor but everybody got flustered and then they converged on a girl who probably wasn’t tall enough to see an opening.”
Momentum wasn’t hard to come by for either team, but for Covenant Christian, it was hard to hold on to. The Warriors never had enough to break through and eliminate a team they had already beaten during the regular season.
The Warriors (16-7) were a young team with four seniors and no juniors. Next year, the consensus is Covenant won’t miss a beat because of the culture created by the class of 2014 and the coaches.
“I love everybody in that locker room for different reasons but first because they’re good people and that what makes them so coachable,” Smith said. “They listen, they look you in the eye and they’re never rolling their eyes and those are things that are going to play out in their lives long beyond basketball.
“We didn’t have bad practices. If things started going south in our practices, our seniors, without being told, always had everyone huddled up getting on each other and the kids feed off that. We’ve had a couple sophomores that have become really vocal in our practices and our locker room and I think they want to take that leadership role. I’ve been coaching basketball for 18 years and this, by far, is the greatest group of seniors I’ve ever been around.”