One of the most exciting Kiwanis Classics in years ended with one heart-stopping game after another Saturday night at Navarro’s Wolens SEC, where Rice won the boys title and Kerens won the girls title, and the Mildred girls and Kerens boys finished third.

    The final four games of the Classic were classics.

Rice wins title

    Rice had an incredible comeback in the final minute to complete a 12-0 run to beat Blooming Grove 50-47 in one of the best comebacks in Kiwanis history. Trailing 47-38, Rice raced by the Lions by forcing seven turnovers in the final two minutes and had the large crowd on its feet for the ride.

    Tanner Carlisle’s three-pointer after a turnover closed the gap to 47-45 with less than a minute left and Tre’ Jessie made a steal and sent a pass to Dee Robinson, who hit a drive to give Rice it’s first lead since the Bulldogs were up 14-13 to end the first quarter.

    Blooming Grove’s last turnover came in the final seconds and Jessie, who played almost the entire  fourth quarter with four fouls, made two free throws to seal it.

    “Something got into us,” said Jessie, who finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds,  four blocked shots and five steals. He was voted the Kiwanis MVP after leading the Bulldogs to their second Kiwanis title in a row.

    Rice coach Antonio Burks ripped into his kids during a timeout and watched them take over the game.

    “We started playing,” Burks said. “They woke up and started playing. When we were down by 11 they started hanging their heads a little, and I just told them to keep playing, and told them we hadn’t played good basketball the whole game. They showed some resiliency and stayed focused and we picked up the pace and started getting turnovers. I’m proud of the way they hung in there.”

    “Coach Burks sparked us,” Jessie said. “He put a spark into us. We just got going …It was really crazy. I’ve never heard the crowd that loud before. When Tanner hit that three they went crazy.”

    Carlisle said he never doubted going for the bomb.

    “It was a three all the way,” he said. “I knew if I hit the three the momentum would change. When it left my hands it was smooth. It felt great, just great.”

     Blooming Grove got strong performances from John Shaw, who led the Lions with 13 points, and Stephen Carroll, who scored 10 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked three shots and made three steals. Eric Thompson also had a big game for BG, scoring 12 points.

     Shaw and Carroll were named to the All-Tournament team along with Rice's Elizhah Nezar, who made some critical shots and finished with 14 points. Robinson scored seven and Carlisle and Conner Metcalf scored four each for the Bulldogs -- and those three combined to score seven of Rice's final 12 points to complete the furious comeback.

        Rice’s wild finish was perfect for a night of wild endings.

   Kerens LadyCats edge Blooming Grove 48-47 to capture title

    The Kerens LadyCats needed every bit of resilience to hold off Tyler Pyburn and Blooming Grove in the girls title game, and put the game away when Nakia Dunn dropped in a free throw with eight seconds left to win the title 48-47.

    “I had confidence in Kia,” said Kerens coach Denise Lincoln who watched Kerens win its second title in a row. “I felt like she was going to make it, at least one of them.”

    One was all Kerens needed on a night when the LadyCats controlled the game until the final minutes. Mya Lincoln, who opened the tournament with a 36-point game against Avalon, was still nursing an ankle injury she suffered in Friday’s game. But she played in pain and had a gutsy and tough performance and made three three-pointers to finish with nine points. Olivia Franson led Kerens with 16 and Nia Brown had eight points and 10 rebounds, and Kecie Langley had eight points.

   Lincoln, Franson and Dunn were all named to the All-Tournament team.

    Kerens needed every point and every rebound to hold off Pyburn, who had a monster game. She does it all for the Lady Lions: She takes the ball out at critical times, brings it up the court, grabs rebounds like crazy, blocks shots and makes steals. She finished the night with 28 points, 16 rebounds and five steals and was named the Kiwanis MVP.

    Pyburn, who was injured last year and had to sit out the Kiwanis Classic, said she had something to prove.

    “I didn’t play last year and felt I had to redeem myself,” she said. “I wanted to have a good tournament and help my team win.”

    She did everything but drive the bus.

    She scored every point (8) for BG in the first quarter and 14 of the Lady Lions 22 halftime points, but she couldn‘t catch Kerens, which led the entire game and was up by eight when Franson hit a drive to make it 41-33 in the fourth quarter. Kerens still led by six (47-41) with three minutes left to play.

    But the LadyCats couldn’t take off enough clock in the final minutes, and BG got a huge three-pointer from Kristen Keating to close to 47-44 with 2:10 left. Then Keating, who scored five of her nine points in the final minutes, came right back and hit a jumper to close to 47-46 with 1:17 left to play.

     Kasey Fisher blocked a Kerens shot to force a turnover and Riley Skains, who finished with five points, made a free throw that rolled around the rim, teasing both teams, before dropping in to knot things at 47-47 with 41 seconds left.

    Both teams turned the ball over and Kerens got the ball with 11 seconds left before Dunn came through with her clutch free throw to win it for the LadyCats.

    There was plenty of drama in the third-place games as well.

   Kerens Bobcats hang on against Mildred to take third

    Kerens led Mildred all night but had to hang on to win 76-70 in the boys third-place game.

    The Bobcats built the lead to 16 points in the third quarter, but the Eagles had their own inspiring comeback and Jessie Adamson’s three-pointer with six seconds left closed the gap to 72-70.

    Kerens, which had trouble shooting free throws throughout the tournament, made four in a row over the final 2.6 seconds as Qua Lawrence and Taymont Lindsey both nailed shots to lift Kerens to the six-point victory.

    “I was proud of our effort,” said Kerens first-year coach Augustus Moore, whose team played in three close games, beating Avalon in overtime and losing a thrilling game to Blooming Grove 51-48 in the semifinals. “Our defense is our offense. When we play fast and get out and run we can play, but if we don’t start making our free throws it’s going to be a short season -- it will be a long short season.”

    Kerens made only 16 of 33 free throws in the loss to Blooming Grove and made 17 of 31 against Mildred.

    “For our seniors it was their last time at the Kiwanis,” he said. “They should have been playing in the championship game, but we missed too many free throws.”

    Bubba Faulk’s miracle three-pointer on the run at the buzzer gave Kerens an 18-15 lead to end the first quarter, and the Bobcats -- behind Lawrence and Lindsey -- built the lead to 38-33 at halftime. Then Lawrence opened the second half with a three that ignited an 11-0 run that gave the Bobcats a 49-33 lead with 5:12 left in the third.

    But Mildred hung in and battled back with a disciplined offense and a defense that wouldn’t break and nine Eagles scored, including Ty Powers, who led with 16, Grant Gray, who came off the bench to score 14, and Creed Baker, who scored 13.

    But Kerens showed it’s toughness and Lawrence had his best game of the season, scoring 27 points, while Lindsey added 15 and Faulk finished with 10.

     Lawrence and Lindsey were named to the All-Tournament team.

      Mildred's Lady Eagles storm back to edge Frost 42-40

    The girls third-place game came down to the wire as Mildred came back from nine points to beat Frost by two points in another nail biter.

    Callie Waller busted a three-pointer and made it look easy and then dropped in a free throw in the final seconds to complete an inspiring comeback by Mildred’s Lady Eagles, who edged Frost 42-40 to take third place in the Kiwanis Classic.

    Waller helped ignite the comeback for the Lady Eagles, who were down by nine points midway through the third quarter but stormed back to knot things at 33-33 before Frost took a 35-33 lead into the fourth.

    Waller opened the fourth with a drive to forge a 35-35 tie and then both teams struggled to score in the final tension-filled minutes.  Tani Ramos hit a free throw with 6:09 left and Jimena Perez made two free throws to give Frost a 38-35 lead with 3:39 left, but Mildred climbed back from the free throw line, where Chloe Dulworth dropped in a shot to close to 38-36 and Tori Davis hit two free throws with 2:25 left to tie it up again at 38.

    Davis’ free throws came after she was fouled by Kinsley Fuller, who fouled out with 13 points, and Frost played down the stretch with its two best players out of the game. Sydney Woods, who hit four  threes, fouled out early in the fourth.

    It stayed 38-38 until Waller, who led Mildred with 20 points, hit a three to lift the Lady Eagles to a 41-38 lead. Perez zipped a great pass to Haddi Montgomery, who hit a drive to close to 41-40, but Waller came back seconds later and nailed a free throw with 19.3 seconds left to give Mildred a two-point lead that held up when Frost missed a pair of free throws with 1.1 left on the clock.

    Frost was led by Woods and Fuller, and Perez followed with four points and Amy Menendez scored three. Montgomery (2), Katelyn Worley (2), Ramos (1) and Yuritza Perez (1) all scored for Frost.

     Waller and Woods were named to the All-Tournament team.

    Mildred had big games from players all over the court. Dulworth had a strong game and finished with seven points and Lilly Hannah and Madisyn Arnett scored five each for Mildred. Davis (2), Kyleigh Middleton (2) and Bailey Burks (1) all scored for the Lady Eagles, who have made a huge turnaround this season.

    Mildred coach Brittney Steed has done a tremendous job with the program, which won six games a year ago. Her kids are 12-9 already and playing better than they have in years.

    Saturday’s turnaround in the third-place game at Navarro’s Wolen SEC was another example of just how far the program has come in a year.

    “Taking third… It’s great we took third,” Steed said. “It was a tough third, but I’ll take it. I’m proud of them. They could have easily given up, but we kept playing and kept fighting. I’m proud of them for fighting.”

    Steed said she told her kids not to give up when they were down in the third.

    “I said whatever,” she said with a smile. “I just told them,  ‘We’ve got to want it!’ and they came right out and played like it.”


      Dawson Lady Bulldogs capture fifth

    The Dawson girls and the Milford boys took home fifth early Saturday as Dawson beat Rice 37-31 behind a tremendous game from Hailey Tyra, who hit six three-pointers and scored 25 of Dawson’s 37 points. Rice was led by Evelyn Robles, who hit two threes and finished with 17 points.

    Milford's boys won 74-69 in a close game for fifth. Frost's Polar Bears beat Dawson 66-62 in another close game to take the seventh place game, and Milford's girls beat Avalon 47-17 in the only one-sided game of the day for seventh place.

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