PIERCE -- All night long, the Class C No. 3 Pierce and Class D No. 1 O'Neill St. Mary's girls found offense a precious gift as both teams showcased their defensive prowess in a battle of undefeated defending state champions Monday night.
So, it was no surprise that a timely defensive play led to the offense that decided the game.
Shelby Bretschneider stole a pass with 10 seconds left, and with time winding down, Jaci Brahmer snagged a high lob pass from teammate Hailey Race down in the paint that sailed just past a defender's hands. Brahmer's shot glanced off the glass and fell through the net as the buzzer sounded to give the Bluejays a 40-38 victory.
"I knew that it was going to be last-second, and we had to get a shot off. We had to execute the offense to win the game," Brahmer said.
It was a fitting end for a game which featured three ties and four lead changes in the second half, despite both teams combining for just 28 points.
"We run a lot of different sets and the kids have confidence in them," Pierce coach Darren Sindelar said. "The biggest thing that we do is we call it, and we've run it so many times in practice that, hopefully, it's second-nature to the kids and they know what to look for."
Pierce led the entire fourth quarter until Emily Pongratz hit two free throws with 1:35 remaining for a 38-37 lead. Casey Sutherland hit one of two free throws 31 seconds later to tie the game, and St. Mary's called a timeout with 50 seconds left. The Cardinals then stalled for the next 35 seconds until Taylor Colman tried passing to Riley Sibbel in the corner, but Bretschneider was right there to pick it off.
"This game can make us better," St. Mary's coach Traci Berg said. "I felt like we held our ground. The difference was free throws and missed opportunities."
"It was two athletic teams," Sindelar said. "Up to this point, St. Mary's is the most athletic team we've played this year. ... Just because they're in Class D doesn't mean they couldn't compete in C1 or C2. This competition, regardless of what class they're in, makes us better."