The Spearfish Spartans had one more run in them Thursday night and it proved to be enough to keep their state title hopes alive.
Spearfish battled back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to shock St. Thomas More for the second time this season, ending the second-ranked Cavaliers outstanding campaign with a gutty 46-44 victory in the District 16 Championship at Naasz Gymnasium.
The Spartans, 16-4, will face Red Cloud for the 16A title on Tuesday. St. Thomas More finished 20-2 with both losses to Spearfish.
Last season the Cavaliers toppled Spearfish en route to the state title, sending the Spartans home in the all-or-nothing district tournament.
Not this year.
“I just thought about last year,” Spearfish junior forward Kaitlyn Hinch said. “Everything just worked out for us.”
Hinch tied the game at 44 with 1:36 to play on a lay-up off of a STM turnover and then played a part in the winning basket.
With less than 20 seconds left, she drove to the free-throw line and found a wide-open Kaitlin Spargur for a lay-up on the left side of the basket.
St. Thomas More brought the ball down the court and called timeout with 7.6 seconds remaining. After another timeout, the Cavaliers couldn't get good control after the in-bound pass and Ciara Duffy tried a wild long 3-point attempt that was short at the buzzer.
The missed shot set off a wild celebration from the Spearfish bench and crowd.
“They are a great team and are very deserving of being in the state tournament too,” Spearfish head coach Eric Lappe said of St. Thomas More. “It is unfortunate that we both can't go. But I'm glad we still have a chance.”
Spargur said their comeback was the result of hard work.
“We've worked so hard this season, to see it finally pay off, it means everything for us,” Spargur said.
The Spartans outscored the Cavaliers 14-4 in the final six minutes when it looked like St. Thomas More was on the verge of pulling away after eight lead changes and several ties.
Despite falling behind by eight, Lappe said they just had to stick to the game plan.
“We just made sure we had to finish,” he said. “They are tough-minded and they did it. All of the credit goes to them.”
The Spearfish comeback had to start with defense, Lappe said, and it did.
“That's just the way they are; they are tough-nosed and when we had to get stops, we got them,” he said.
The Spartans took their first lead of the game at 18-17 on an 11-2 run, highlighted by seven points from Hinch.
Although More came back to regain the lead, the Spartans had the momentum, using a 6-1 run in the final three minutes for a 24-20 halftime advantage. Miranda Meeker kept that momentum going when she banked in a long two-pointer from the right side with three seconds left in the half.
That momentum was short-lived, even after two straight baskets by Spearfish that put it up by eight early in the third. The Cavaliers responded by running off 10 straight points, highlighted by two 3-pointers by Ciara Duffy.
And More used five straight points from Madison Kirsch for a 36-32 lead heading into the final quarter.
Long jumpers by Megan Green and Kirsch put St. Thomas More up by eight early in the fourth.
The game, however, proved to be far from over when Spargur and Meeker hit a pair of free throws each and Hinch nailed a 3-pointer to make it a three-point game.
“I can't thank my teammates enough for getting it to me when I struggled. I got the last one to go, so that was amazing,” said Spargur, who finished with six points. Hinch topped the Spartans with 17 points.
Kirsch led the Cavaliers with 20 points.