It’s a hard heart that wouldn’t have been moved by the Humboldt High School girls’ gutsy performance Thursday night in what turned out to be their final game of the season.
The Cubs lost to the Burlington Wildcats in double overtime 55-50.
The Wildcats led the Cubs most of the game, and the night seemed destined to be a sequel of their previous encounter, when the Lady Cats thumped the Cubs by 17.
But, then, in the fourth quarter: something happened. The Lady Cubs’ offense cohered. They played lockdown defense. And the score inched closer. A 12-point deficit was reduced to six, then four. The Cubs pulled within a bucket with less than five minutes to play; then tied the game on the next possession, when senior Lakota Wilson drove the length of the floor and scored on an easy layup. The polite applause issuing from the Humboldt fans turned into a sustained, if stunned, ovation.
“I really don’t think anybody but me expected we could do this,” said head coach Aubrey Jones, of her team’s comeback.
The last three minutes amounted to a tense punch-for-punch exchange, each team answering the other for points, until, with Humboldt up 42-39 with eight seconds on the clock and with the Cubs’ bleachers rattling, Burlington’s Shelbi “Ice in My Veins” Emling — the game’s leading scorer with 26 — drained a buzz-killing three from the deep right wing, sending the second round substate game into overtime.
Humboldt established an early lead in the extra period and sustained it, largely, on the strength of its free throw shooting and — on the evidence of a number of well-executed inbound plays and masterly press breaks — the superior coaching of Jones. The Lady Cubs led 46-42 with 1:30 to go in overtime.
But then, again, there was the problem of Emling. After hitting two free throws to make it a one-possession game, the Burlington junior, on the next trip down the court, sliced up a weary Humboldt defense with her elegantly lethal crossover. Finding an Emling-sized seam in the defense, the point guard struck — hitting a driving, one-handed floater to tie the game at 46.
Humboldt had one last chance to win it. Cubs’ sophomore Tilar Wells, already with two threes on the night — including a key long-range bomb late in the fourth quarter — had a look at an open triple in the remaining seconds, and so she let fly with the potential game-winner. The ball rattled around the rim long enough to make everyone in the Field House squirm, but then spun out.
The game moved to double overtime.
Burlington’s offensive rebounding marked the fatal difference in the second extra session. More than once, the Cats’ 5-11 junior Regan Norton cleaned up missed shots on Burlington’s end, which she typically kicked out to Emling, who, being Emling, found a way to put the ball in the basket, and, as the final buzzer sounded, to launch her team into the Class 3A substate championship game.
The Humboldt girls end their season 14-8.
After the game, as Coach Jones consoled her players in the locker room — including her five departing seniors — a crowd lingered, gathering in a semicircle outside the locker room door — students, teachers, the boys head coach and a handful of his players, friends, parents. When the girls emerged from the locker room, where it was apparent they’d just dried their tears, the crowd began to applaud. Seeing their friends and family, many of the Lady Cubs burst into renewed sobs at the reception.
“They just kept punching through,” said Jones. “They kept fighting. They didn’t give up. I couldn’t be more proud of them. I mean, it definitely hurts to go out that way.” Lakota Wilson — the team’s leading scorer with 15 — sidled up to her coach just then and the two embraced. “They wouldn’t quit,” Jones continued. “They just would not quit, and that’s all I asked of them. And so I just told them in there how extremely proud I am.”
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