CLAYTON -- When Chelsie Haltom's three-pointer with 56 seconds remaining gave Cloverdale the lead, it looked like they had done it to county-rival South Putnam for the third time this year.
As the seconds ticked away, time was running out for South Putnam. In the chaotic final minute, neither team could do much that was productive. But the Clovers seemed to be holding on to their lead.
Time had ticked down, but the Eagles had one last shot. Oceaia Boetjer took the ball near the top of the key, dribbled to the right wing and drained a three-pointer to put the Eagles on top 40-39 with 4.5 seconds remaining.
When Kristin McCammon's three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark, the Eagles had finally beaten the Clovers when it counted -- in a sectional game.
Of Boetjer's shot, Eagle coach Debbie Steffy said, "I don't think we've had any bigger shot this season than that one. know this is sectional and everybody would say, 'Oh yeah, this sectional; that's a big one,' but was a big shot."
Ironically, the plan had been for the Eagles (10-11) to go for the tie. Sometimes plans change.
"We had talked about the fact that we had to take it to the basket on that last play and as Oceaia got it, she was coming towards our bench on the dribble and we're all yelling at her, 'Hit it! Hit it!' and she launches it and it goes right in," Steffy said.
Cloverdale coach Bruce Cook had also expected a two-pointer, as the Eagles had attempted just two three-pointer to that point.
"I was a little surprised that Oceaia shot the three when they only needed two to tie. But that's a ball player," Cook said. "They hit one three for the night and it was a big shot."
Before the chaos of the final minute, though, it had been a closely-contested game, but one the Eagles had controlled most of the way.
Bailey Birt began the game for the Eagles, scoring 10 of their 12 first-quarter points.
"Bailey Birt came out on fire. We needed that. She got us going early," Steffy said.
Although the Clovers (15-6) struggled to find their offense early, they kept pace with the Eagles by hitting three shots from beyond the arc.
The score was tied at 12 after one.
In the second, things slowed down considerably for both squads. However, I theme emerged for the South Putnam defense: they were not going to let Elizabeth Cheatham, who had scored more the 20 points in each of the Clovers' last two contests, beat them.
"(Cheatham) was the focal point the last time we played them and this time," Steffy said. "We can't let her get the basketball because what happens is if they're able to throw the ball in to her, then everybody starts to double down or sag into her and that opens up their outside game."
Cook saw the same thing from his own bench.
"I didn't think we ever got anything in sync offensively and they did a good job of bottling us up on the inside," he said. "We hit some threes that kept us in the game, but usually we have to sprinkle that with some inside play and we didn't have that tonight."
Cheatham finished with just five points, while forward Ashley Koosman was scoreless until she put in seven fourth-quarter points.
The key to the effort on Cheatham was Eagle senior Liz Mink.
"Mink just did the job on Cheatham all night long," Steffy said. "She missed a couple of passes underneath the basket and was so disappointed. I said, 'Hey, just do your job playing defense and you'll get the next one. To her credit, she came back in and did a good job on Elizabeth."
After a low-scoring second, the team were once again tied at the half with 19 points each.
The Clovers remained cold in the third, but the Eagles began to build a lead. Mink had a bucket and Birt and Canary each added a pair in the period.
Cloverdale, on the other hand, could manage just five points in the third and South led 30-24 after three.
Early in the third, South built the lead further. When another Canary bucket made the score 35-27, Cook knew his team was in trouble.
That's when the Clovers' never-say-die attitude kicked in again. Koosman led the charge to pull the squad within two at 35-37. Then Haltom's three with 55 seconds left gave the Clovers their first lead since early in the third quarter.
But down the stretch, Boetjer ultimately made the play that made the difference.
"We hit some runners on the inside. Chelsie hit the big three on the outside. We got them where we wanted them," Cook said. "The inbounds pass went over-and-back and we had two missed free throws."
Steffy was simply proud of how her team built its lead and of how it battled back after losing the lead.
"I've just got to hand it to our kids. We came out and played well and got to a big lead. Cloverdale came back and took the lead and our kids just wanted to win. They just worked hard and they had to in order to get the victory in that last minute," Steffy said.
While Boetjer, a junior, hit the big shot, Steffy gave much of the credit to her three seniors. Birt got the offense started in the first quarter. Mink defended Cheatham all night. Canary, normally the team's leading scorer, fought through some tough defense in the first half, making plays to help teammates score and finally getting her own chances in the second half.
"Canary's always going to come out big," Steffy said. "She's a gamer. She wants to score, but not to the point of being selfish. She just wants to win. She did a job nice tonight of handling the pressure, handling the basketball and getting people where they were supposed to be."
Cook, likewise, was proud of his three seniors and what they've done for his program.
"Chelsie Haltom has meant so much to this program. She's been at it for four years and in that time I've never seen her come in down. I've never seen her not smile. She's just a great kid to coach," Cook said.
"You can't say enough about Koosman's hustle. She just comes out and plays hard. We knew she might not be at full strength, but I think she played the whole second half," he added.
But on Wednesday, perhaps the biggest accomplishment of any Clover was senior Kristen Schroer simply making it into the game. Having missed two months with an ankle injury, she made her return just in time to contribute ina sectional game.
"Kristen worked real hard to come back. After that ankle injury, she gave us 20 to 22 minutes tonight and did a nice job," Cook said. "It was tough for her to do that. She didn't have her move on the inside, but she rebounded, played some defense and gave us some time where Koosman and Cheatham to get on the bench a little bit."
Cook has watched the Cloverdale program grow in his five years as coach, and he gave much of the credit to the trio he is graduating this year.
"Those three seniors have meant everything to our program. They set the tone. You'll see in the next two or three years that will still hold true and that all started with their attitudes and their work ethic," Cook concluded.
Birt led all scorers with 16 points. Boetjer was next with 14. Haltom was the only Clover in double figures, with 12.
The Eagles will be back at Cascade at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the second semifinal game against Covenant Christian. The Warriors defeated Monrovia 51-42 in Wednesday's second game.
IHSAA Girls' Basketball Sectional
Cloverdale 12 7 5 15 -- 39
South Putnam 12 7 11 10 -- 40
Cloverdale (15-6) -- Haltom 4-11 2-4 12, Shepherd 2-9 2-4 8, Koosman 2-7 3-6 7, Cheatham 2-4 1-2 5, McCammon 2-16 0-2 5, Franklin 1-2 0-0 2, Schroer 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 13-52 FG, 8-18 FT, 39 points.
South Putnam (10-11) -- Birt 6-13 4-6 16, Boetjer 5-12 3-5 14, Canary 3-6 1-2 7, Mink 1-3 1-2 3, Butts 0-3 0-0 0, Searles 0-0 0-2 0. Totals: 15-37 FG, 9-17 FT, 40 points.
3-pt FG--Cl 5-23 (Haltom 2-4, Shepherd 2-8, McCammon 1-10, Franklin 0-1), SP 1-3 (Boetjer 1-3). Turnovers--Cl 13, SP 16. Total fouls--Cl 16, SP 16. Fouled out--None.
Next game -- South Putnam will face Covenant Christian at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal of the Cascade Sectional. Cloverdale finished its season at 15-6.