The clutch free throws capped a big night from the Lady Jacket senior. She went 14-for-17 from the line on her way to a game-high 32 points.
“She played one of her better games. She was active all night, attacked the basket when we got her the ball in scoring position,” said MHS coach Elgie Green. “Those were 32 big points. We were down by ten points at one time and she put us on her shoulders and got us right back into the ball game.”
The game was tight down the stretch with as the fourth quarter featured four ties and four lead changes.
A three-point play and then another basket inside from Ariel Nickell gave Claiborne a 49-44 lead with 4:44 to play.
The Lady Jackets responded with a 7-0 run as Coleman went 5-of-6 from the foul line and Ashley Mason drove in for a basket.
Nickell, who led the Lady Bulldogs with 22 points, scored inside once again to tie the game at 51 at the 2:33 mark.
A free throw from Coleman put Middlesboro back on top, then Lindsey Snodgrass hit two from the charity stripe with 2:06 to play to give Claiborne a 53-52 lead.
Junior Carissa Overbay drew a foul on a drive to the basket with 1:41 on the clock and made both free throws to put the Lady Jackets back on top.
Emily Pannocchia made a pair of nice defensive plays to prevent Nickell from scoring after getting the ball in the low post on the following Claiborne possession.
“Emily had ten points and seven or eight rebounds,” Green said. “She stepped up big and helped us really make Nickell earn her points.”
After an exchange of turnovers Nickell was fouled going for a rebound and hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 54 with 1:03 to play.
A steal by Nickell gave the Lady Bulldogs the ball back with under 40 seconds to play and they played to hold for the last shot.
But the defensive play of the game came with less than ten seconds remaining. Taylor Moyers jumped into the passing lane for a steal with seven seconds remaining and got the ahead to a streaking Coleman.
“That’s why we had Taylor in there. She’s a strong kid with some quickness and she’s aggressive on defense,” Green said. “We needed that big play and then she made a great decision on that two-on-one to get the ball to Sam.”
Amy Estep fouled Coleman to prevent an easy layup and she hit both free throws to put Middlesboro up 56-54.
After a time out, Claiborne came out with an excellent final play. The inbounds pass went to Nickell near center court where she turned and flipped it out to Sam Killion running wide open down the right sideline. Two dribbles gave Killion an open look at a running 16-footer from the elbow as the buzzer sounded, but it was just a little strong and the Lady Jackets held on.
Amy Estep joined Nickell in double figures with 11 points for Claiborne while Pannocchia finished with 10 points for Middlesboro.
“Overall I thought we executed our offense better than what we’ve been doing,” Green said. “We didn’t create a lot of turnovers with our press but it made them push the ball. There for a while I thought were getting tired and it was working the opposite way, but our kids hung tight and kept it close.”
Free throws were a big factor in the Lady Jackets favor as they hit 18-of-26 in the game while the Lady Bulldogs were just 9-of-21.
Middlesboro (7-9) hosts Bell County Friday at 6 p.m. in the first game of a girls/boys double-header.
The Lady Jackets are hoping to get senior guard Mallory Shoffner back for the Bell game. She’s missed the past few weeks with an injured foot.
“Hopefully that will be an emotional lift for us,” Green said. “She’s a heady player and should be able to come right in and contribute.”
Claiborne (8-11) is also back in action Friday as they travel to South Greene, also the first of a girls/boys double-header.
— — —
Claiborne 15 16 11 12 — 54
Middlesboro 13 16 10 17 — 56
CLAIBORNE (54): Ariel Nickell 22, Amy Estep 11, Lindsey Snodgrass 6, Lindsey Hall 5, Sam Killion 3, Sarah Bishop 3, Abbey Taylor 2, Ashley Bussell 2, Serena Nickell 0.
MIDDLESBORO (56): Samantha Coleman 32, Emily Pannocchia 10, Carissa Overbay 4, Ashley Mason 4, Carissa Padgett 3, Shanice Gilbert 2, RayAnn Moyers 1, Taylor Hatchell 0.