Shut out for nearly the entire third quarter with its best player on the bench in foul trouble, Craig-Fairfax left the door wide open for South Nodaway to pull ahead after trailing by as many as 10 points during a turnover-filled first half.
Despite numerous opportunities, the Lady Longhorns couldn't grab the lead away, and their window of opportunity closed on them in the fourth quarter.
With star guard Aleesha Ball back on the floor, Craig-Fairfax widened its lead out to 11 points and held off a last-minute comeback bid by the Longhorns to win 36-27 in the opening game of Pool A at the Northwest Missouri Tournament Tuesday evening.
Coming off a 28-point loss to Nodaway-Holt the night before, the Hornets earned a chance to play for third place Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The Longhorns dropped to 3-4 on the season and face Nodaway-Holt tonight.
"It was a miracle (we survived that third quarter)," said CFX head coach Dustin Barnes. "Fortunately for us, we've had a couple other two point quarters this season, so it wasn't anything new. We were struggling to score points. We knew we had to grind out a win. It was just luck. We gave up some good shots to them. Fortunately, a few of their shots didn't fall and we were able to maintain that lead going to the fourth and get Aleesha back on the floor. That helped a lot."
After holding an 18-17 lead for over five minutes, the Hornets scored their only points of the third quarter on two made free throws by Brooklynn Morris with 2.6 seconds left.
This sent the Hornets to the fourth with a 20-17 lead.
Finally, some shots started falling.
Back-to-back three's by Alyssa Lewis and freshman Ryan Hopkins (nine points) made it 26-19, restoring the team's seven-point halftime margin. Ball took it from there, scoring eight of the team's final 10 points to finish with a game-high 17.
Two driving layups from Ball and a free throw by Hopkins gave the Hornets their largest lead of 31-20 with 1:38 left.
"(Aleesha) was able to make a couple good plays in transition and she's just used to this type of game," said Barnes. "She's the only girl we got that has any sort of varsity experience prior to this year. Being able to rely on her to come out and make some shots and take charge is big."
Out of a timeout, South Nodaway switched into its full-court pressure defense and immediately caused a turnover that led to a layup for Kristen Nielson. Another Hornet turnover and a three-pointer by Leann
Walker made it 31-25 with 59.1 seconds left.
Hope was restored.
Page 2 of 3 - On their third inbounds attempt, the Hornets finally broke South Nodaway's pressure and Ball hit two free throws with 41.2 seconds left. A jumper by South Nodaway's Allison Hilsabeck made it a six-point game again.
That was as close as the Longhorns would get.
Hopkins sank two free throws and Ball added another to complete the scoring.
"Between us and them, it's a coin flip," said Barnes. "They come out and knock down some shots, they're going to beat us. We were fortunate that our pressure got them tonight. We were able to keep them away from the bucket."
Facing pressure the entire game, South Nodaway finished with almost as many turnovers (24) as points (27).
They had 18 of those in the first half and scored just 11 points.
Junior post Andrea Henggeler was the team's high scorer with six.
"Right now, we're struggling at the point position," said South Nodaway head coach Aaron Murphy. "We have some young girls with more weight on the their shoulders than in the past handling the ball, and we just kind of faltered on that. No one looked comfortable. Craig-Fairfax did a good job of keeping us uncomfortable. They did exactly what they wanted to do."
Both teams went scoreless for the first three minutes before Ball hit a three to give the Hornets an early lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Longhorns scored their first basket almost four minutes and fell behind 11-2 on a steal and score by Ball.
CFX closed the quarter ahead 13-5.
The Hornets hit a drought in the second quarter, going into the final seconds without a field goal.
South Nodaway got within five points twice, but a buzzer-beating shot by Morris made it 18-11 at the half.
The Longhorns came out strong in the second half, scoring the first six points to make it a one-point game.
Henggeler made a pair of elbow jumpers inside CFX's zone and found Malainee Hilsbaeck underneath for the final bucket during that span.
South Nodaway had the ball nine times with a chance to take the lead, but came up empty on each one.
"We were getting good shots," said Murphy. "They just weren't going in. We weren't being overly aggressive going to the basket. We did some good things there offensively whenever we were able to go in the halfcourt and run offense. We were getting points. We hit a little slow spell there, but you're going to hit those throughout a game. It's just who's going to turn over the ball more and get more opportunities to score."
Northeast Nodaway 40 West Nodaway 37
Page 3 of 3 - The Bluejays held on in the fourth quarter to win their opening game of the Northwest Missouri Tournament over the host Lady Rockets.
NEN's Taryn Farnan had a pair of fourth quarter baskets and finished with a game-high 15 points.
West Nodaway's Deanna Harvey and Marissa Perkins each scored 12 points.
NEN plays North Nodaway in its next game today at 4:30 p.m. West Nodaway takes on South Nodaway in the consolation game.