It was not always the smoothest basketball, but by the time the fourth quarter ended, it had all the drama a Putnam County Tournament contest should have.
North Putnam got two key late free throws from Samantha Lucas merely seconds after South Putnam had taken the lead and after a few tense seconds, the Cougars marched on to the championship game with a 32-31 win over the host Eagles.
It was not always the prettiest of contests. Sluggish shooting from both squads led to a first quarter that saw both sides unable to get the offenses into the game as the period ended 6-4 in favor of the Cougars.
Eagle sophomore Jenna Jones led a rally for the Eagles in the second quarter, scoring eight of her game high 14 in the period to give the Eagles the lead. North Putnam never could get the ball in the basket, settling for three points, all from the free throw line, in falling behind 14-9 at halftime.
It would take four minutes to undo that deficit, though, as two three pointers from Shelby Frye, sandwiched around a Megan Robinson triple, spurred the Cougars toward a three-point lead at the end of three at 22-19.
The lead would grow to as large as eight points before the hosts began to rally back, finally knocking down some shots from the floor and adding in free throws to close the gap. The Eagles finally tied North Putnam with two Ericka Minor free throws with 1:20 left in the game.
Both squads traded possessions for the next minute until Mallory Cash was fouled with 14.7 seconds left. The Eagle sophomore hit the first shot but missed the second and in the ensuing rebound chase, Lucas was fouled with 12.9 seconds left.
Lucas, who was 1-7 at the charity stripe up to that point, knocked down both shots to give the Cougars a 32-31 edge. South Putnam threw the in-bounds pass away, only for a surprise jump ball call to be made with 8 seconds left.
Even with the second chance to win, South Putnam couldn't get its last shot to drop and the Cougars held on to their slender winning margin.
Afterwards, North Putnam head coach Jim Brothers knew his team was better than the first half indicated.
"I think we were 3-25 in the first half and 3-12 from the free throw line and we're better than that and we told the kids that," Brothers said. "We told the kids, 'You're getting shots, just keep taking them when you get them.' In the first half I thought we rushed some of the shots, tried to shoot it before we really had it in our hands and we did a better job in the second half with that.
"I thought we were fighting hard. Some would call it ugly, and it's not always the most enjoyable thing to watch, but if you like kids competing hard and going after it, then that was a good ballgame. It was entertaining. It was a good county basketball game. The kids were hustling up and down the floor, it was a clean game and those are fun to watch," Brothers added.
South Putnam head coach Debbie Steffy, while disappointed with the result, was far from disappointed with the effort of her squad.
"I felt like our effort was really good tonight. The kids, they hustled, they got to the ball, tried to pressure the basketball, things we talked about all week that we were going to need to do to be competitive. You couldn't ask for a better game," Steffy said.
"It seemed like for a while there was a lid on the basket for both teams. We couldn't put the ball in but the nice thing about it was that both teams kept hammering away at each other. We kept playing good defense, they kept playing good defense."
South Putnam will play Cloverdale in the consolation game of the Putnam County Tournament Saturday, a game that Steffy knows her team can't take lightly.
"We're going to have to come out with the same intensity that we came out with tonight. They've got some nice players, Holly McCammon and Bristy Skiles can shoot from the outside. They've got some other kids that can do some good things, too, so we've got to come out and be on our A game," Steffy said.
"There's no easy game as far as for us on our schedule. We've got to come out, compete every night and do what we've got to do and that's play hardnosed defense, defend people, keep the score low and knock down shots," Steffy added.
North Putnam will square off for the Putnam County Tournament Championship following the consolation game. It's one that Brothers and the Cougars will relish.
"Greencastle is a talented squad. They've got a lot of kids that can put the ball in the basket and we'll have to be prepared for that. We'll look at how we want to attack them and how we're going to put the ball in the basket," Brothers said.
"We've got to relax. We've got a day to prepare and come back and see what happens."
At South Putnam
North Putnam 6 3 13 10 -- 32
South Putnam 4 10 5 12 -- 31
Shooting -- North Putnam 10-46; South Putnam 10-39
Free Throws -- North Putnam 9-28; South Putnam 12-17
Three Pointers -- North Putnam 3 (Frye 2, Me. Robinson); South Putnam 1 (Jones)
North Putnam -- Me. Robinson 10; Frye 7; Lucas 5; Pinney 4; Asbell 4; Mo. Robinson 2
South Putnam -- Jones 14; Cash 7; McHugh 4; Masters 3; Minor 2; Urton 1
Next game -- South Putnam plays Cloverdale in the consolations game of the Putnam County Tournament Saturday at 6:30 p.m.. North Putnam plays Greencastle in the championship game of the Putnam County Tournament Saturday at 8 p.m.