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Northern Tier Sports Report
ROME — Williamson watched as their big first quarter lead evaporated under NEB’s long range assault through much of the second half. However, the Warriors rallied in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, holding the Panthers scoreless as they nabbed 10 straight points to pull out the 46-39 win during the NTL Showdown girls’ basketball tournament first round Thursday.

“It’s phenomenal, I’m so proud of them,” said Williamson coach Marisa Allen about her team’s first trip to the NTL Showdown finals. “We had this on the goal list at the beginning of the season and we slowly checked each one. I think they’ve overcome their own expectations - I’ve had high expectations that I think were higher than theirs - but they’re finally starting to believe that they can do this, and good things can happen.”

They led 16-2 at one point in the first quarter and held NEB to just 13 points at the half. 

“I was nervous having to come here,” Allen said. “We tend to not play well here. It’s a long ride, but we had a good practice yesterday, and they were awake on the bus - it all just felt right. To come out and play that hard from the very beginning was huge for us.”

The shots started falling for the Panthers in the third as they out scored Williamson 20-8 to cut the deficit to one. They would take a 39-36 lead early in the fourth but Williamson held them scoreless in their final nine possessions of the game.

“I told them at halftime, ‘Northeast, they’re shooters,’” explained Allen. “They’re going to come out and they’re just going to shoot and they don’t miss. We have got to get a hand in their face all the time. That’s what they did in the third quarter, and we just didn’t get to them defensively. The fourth quarter that was the adjustment we had to make - we made some substitutions and make sure we are getting to those shooters and communicating with each other all the time.”

Taylor Rae Jones had 15 points, five boards, four assists, and three steals to lead the Warriors while Kenna Thomas had 13 points, nine boards, two steals, and two blocks.

Olivia Meisner added six points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks as Madison Jones, Avery Vinsek, and Maeve Ficks had four points a piece. Madison Jones added two steals, as well.

Becca VanDeMark had 15 points to lead NEB, hitting three 3-pointers, with Lillie Maynard scoring 10 to go with three steals.

Leah Beebe netted eight points with five boards, four steals, and three assists. Lani Thomas chipped in with three points, nine rebounds, three steals, and three assists, as Lilah Hughes had three points and two steals.

Emma Neuber added five boards, four steals, and three assists.

The two teams traded buckets to open the game, then Williamson went on a 14-0 run. Thomas had six points during that spurt with Taylor Rae and Vinsek each scoring four.

Maynard hit a jumper off a Thomas assist to end the run, followed by Maynard getting another bucket to cut it to 16-6.

Taylor Rae would score for an 18-6 lead, but Maynard had her fourth bucket of the first quarter with a put back, making it an 18-8 game after one.

Hughes opened the second quarter with a 3-ball off a Neuber assist, cutting it to 18-11.

Taylor Rae went on a 6-0 run, though, pushing Williamson’s lead to 24-11. A VanDeMark bucket off a Beebe assist made it 24-13.

Offense was hard to come by the second half of the second quarter with the only basket a Meisner put-back for Williamson’s 13-point lead at the break.

The Panthers flipped the switch in the third as Beebe opened things up with a jumper. VanDeMark followed that with a 3-ball, while Thomas hit two freebies to cut it to 26-20.

Another VanDeMark 3-pointer made it a 3-point game, but that’s when Williamson struck back, beginning with a Thomas basket, followed by a Madison jumper to push their lead back to 30-23.

VanDeMark would hit her third 3-pointer of the quarter off a Maynard assist, but Thomas came back with a lay-up. A Beebe 3-pointer off a Neuber helper cut it to 32-29 for the Panthers.

Maynard made it a 1-point game on a steal and lay-up. Thomas would have a chance to take NEB’s first lead, but missed a pair of freebies.

Taylor Rae would give the Warriors some breathing room with a lay-up, but the final bucket went to NEB as VanDeMark hit a jumper off a Thomas assist, making it a 1-point game going into the fourth.

Thomas would tie it up for the Panthers with a free throw just over a minute into the frame. Meisner came back with a runner on Williamson’s ensuing possession.

NEB’s hot shooting continued as VanDeMark hit a jumper to knot the game up, and Beebe had a steal and 3-pointer to give the Panthers their first lead of the game with under five minutes to play.

The two teams would trade empty possessions until the 3:05 mark of the quarter as Thomas was fouled and made both, cutting it to 39-38.

With 2:10 left Thomas was fouled on an offensive rebound, and made 1-of-2 to tie the game up at 39-all.

After a Panther miss Madison gave Williamson the lead back with a driving lay-up with 1:37 on the clock, putting the Warriors up 41-39.

Williamson would get another stop, and eventually force NEB to foul. Ficks would go to the line and hit both to make it a 2-possession game.

After another Panther miss Taylor Rae was fouled, and went 1-for-2 for a 44-39 lead with 22.9 seconds left.

NEB missed on their following possession, with Ficks going back to the free throw line. She made both with 12.5 seconds remaining, effectively sealing the win.

Williamson will face Troy in the title game on Saturday at Sayre with 1 p.m. start. The Trojans have beaten them twice this year but Allen hopes third time’s the charm.

“I like to say it’s hard to beat somebody three times,” Allen said. “We know what we have to do to beat them. We have to be fundamentally sound, we’ve got to make our free throws. I think that was a lot of our last game - we didn’t make our free throws, and we weren’t fundamentally sound at times. We have to put four strong quarters together.”

PHOTOS: Chris Manning

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