DOVER — An ugly start, a furious comeback and a painful finish. That, in a nutshell, describes the St. Thomas Aquinas High School girls basketball team's 34-32 Division III loss to Inter-Lakes Friday night.
The Saints (2-1) overcame a horrid first-half shooting effort from both the floor and the foul line to come back and take the lead against the Lakers (3-0).
Down by as many as 15 points early in the third quarter, STA went on a 20-4 run to pull ahead 32-31 on a Maggie Marsh foul shot with 1:41 to play in the game.
And then the painful finish.
Inter-Lakes tied the game up at 32-all on a foul shot by Taylor Ambrose with 24 seconds to go.
The Lakers got the ball back on a traveling violation and Amborse made a pretty pass over the top of the STA defense to Caitlin Harris for a layup with 8 seconds showing, putting the visitors up, 34-32.
St. Thomas had one last chance, but a tough lefty shot by Marsh in the lane and Sarah Leahy's follow shot at the buzzer were both off the mark.
"We take 230 free throws in practice as a team," said STA coach JP Sanborn. "We break down our practice percentage, it's 72 percent. Tonight we just couldn't hit a free throw. But (a game) is a totally different animal without question."
Marsh led STA with 17 points, while Madi Freese added seven points and Morgan Atwell knocked home five.
"In the beginning it kind of got in our heads," said Leahy of her team's poor first-half shooting effort. "Once we calmed down a little, everyone started coming together and cheering each other on; it's easier for us to make those shots and become confident."
Jessalyn Brown led the Lakers with a game-high 18 points, 16 in the first half. Ambrose added five.
"We got into a lot of foul trouble," said Inter-Lakes coach Beth Pion-Burlison. "That kind of hurt with the lead. I knew that was going to happen, but our freshmen picked it up."
Indeed, the Lakers were able to weather the storm without their point guard, Julia Gintof, who fouled out with 6:34 to play.
STA made just 4 for 26 shots from the floor in the first half to go along with 3 of 17 shooting from the foul stripe.
"Sean Murphy, the boys varsity coach, I stole it from him," Sanborn said. "Anybody can have a great attitude when you're winning. In the locker room they were pretty focused down 11."
The Saints trailed 9-7 after the first quarter, but Brown sparked a Laker surge in the second with 10 points, including seven in the final 90 seconds. Inter-Lakes turned a two-point lead into a 23-12 advantage at the half.
The Lakers scored two quick buckets to start the third to widen their lead to 27-12.
St. Thomas finally came to life, sparked by 11 points from Marsh, to go on its big run to finally claim the lead with 1:41 to go. Leahy's bucket tied the game at 31-all and Marsh's foul shot gave them their first lead since late in the first quarter.
"We didn't execute very well at the end," Sanborn said. "Inter-Lakes executed very well in their zone plays and very well in a couple of their man plays."
And extremely well on the play that put them ahead to stay in the final seconds.
"I've been on (Harris) since the beginning of the season," Pion-Burlison said. "'I need you to start being physical.' Being in foul trouble, I thought she was going to put her head down. But she ended up hustling. She played hard. She was able to get in that spot and she did it."
"We lost that girl in transition," Sanborn said.
The Saints, who ended up shooting 9 of 27 from the foul line, host Somersworth Tuesday.
LAKERS 34, SAINTS 32
Inter-Lakes 9 14 6 5—34
St. Thomas 7 5 13 7—32
Durand 2-0-4, Brown 6-6-18, Ambrose 1-3-5, Harris 2-0-4, Gintof 0-2-2, Alibrio 0-1-1, Furnee, Buhrman, Lopez. Totals: 11-12-34.
ST. THOMAS (32)
Atwell 2-0-5, Freese 3-1-7, Marsh 5-7-17, Predaris 0-1-1, Leahy 1-0-2, Pulliam, Gaffney, Moore. Totals: 11-9-32.
3-point goals: St. Thomas 1 (Atwell). Fouled out: Gintof.