Craddock’s bounce beats Highlands at buzzer in OT

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Alexis Craddock hadn’t scored all game.

She missed a buzzer-beater in the JV game.

But when the sophomore guard caught the ball on the wing with time winding down in overtime of Conner’s (13-6) varsity game with Highlands (15-7), she didn’t hesitate.

Craddock took two dribbles, pulled up from about 15-feet and drained a buzzer-beating shot as the ball took a friendly bounce to the bottom of the net and a Cougars 64-62 victory over the Bluebirds.

“There was two seconds left so I knew either way it was going back into overtime if I didn’t do that. So why not, just went for it and hoped for the best,” Craddock said. “It felt good when it left my hand, but it kind of helped having the rims being really bouncy here and it bounced back down.”

Craddock’s first attempt in the JV game hit off the back of the rim in regulation to send the game to overtime.

In order for Conner to get to that point, Anna Hamilton needed to knock down three free throws with 2.1 seconds left in regulation to tie things up. The Cougars had let as much of a 18-point first half and 15-point second half lead slip away.

It was Highlands 3-point shooting and full court pressure that got them back in it. Trailing 44-29 in the third, the Bluebirds went on a furious 26-5 run to take a 55-49 lead with less than four minutes to play, aided by Avery Barber’s 3-point shooting who hit three 3-pointers during the run, the final one giving them the six-point edge.

“We have a lot of girls that can shoot the ball when they’re hot. They can make a lot and Avery’s been playing really well for us at the varsity level. We tell all of them you got the green light so they just have to shoot it with confidence,” Bluebirds coach Jaime Walz Richey said.

Juliet Strange wasn’t going to let Conner go down without a response. The Cougars senior went on a 7-2 run of her own to get Conner within one at 57-56 with under a minute to play.

Kaylee Mills and Marissa Green hit clutch free throws to keep Highlands up by three, 59-56 with 34 seconds to play.

Marissa Green helped lead a Highlands comeback with 17 points and nine rebounds. Photo provided | Jenna Richey

After 25 seconds went off the clock trying to find the right shot, Conner called time to set something up.

“I’ll give the ball to Hamilton anytime. When the ball is in her hands we have a good shot of winning,” Cougars coach Michelle Gambrel said.

Hamilton caught the ball on the wing, took a dribble and drew contact on a 3-point attempt. To the line she went.

“I was trying to make contact because I came off the screen and I was wide open and then I took a dribble. So I was like, ‘Oh, I got to make contact now,’ So I’d make contact and drew the foul,” Hamilton said.

She sunk the first two and Highlands called time.

“I’m very confident in myself. I work on free throws every day. We shoot free throws every day in practice. When I’m not at practice, I’m shooting free throws. That’s something I’ve worked on and I’ve always been a high free throw percentage shooter so I know I’m gonna knock it down when I step up to the line,” Hamilton said, who entered the game as an 81% free throw shooter, hitting 73-of-90 attempts.

Swish on the third attempt.

Highlands had one last chance, but the inbounds pass was stolen by Strange, her desperation heave coming up short and sending the game to overtime.

Hamilton started off the overtime scoring with a 3-pointer, but Barber answered with her sixth triple of the night to tie things up at 62.

The Cougars then were able to run the clock down to set up Craddock’s game-winner.

It’s a growing moment for Highlands, a young team with just one senior on the roster still learning how to win games like these. But they continue to make steps in the right direction as they inch closer to the postseason.

“So proud of the girls. We were down 18 and fought back. Had to call two quick timeouts during the first quarter just to get their composure and get them to understand, it’s fine. And once we started doing what we wanted to and making our shots, we did a great job,” Richey said.

Barber led the Bluebirds with 18 points, Green finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.

Hamilton had a 30-piece for Conner, 17 of them coming in the first half as they built the big lead.

“We’re experienced right now and we haven’t had that the last couple years. So that’s really helped us to just keep calm,” Gambrel said.

Strange added 14, Kelsee Simpson adding 10 despite fouling out in the fourth.

CONNER — 18-17-12-12-5 — 64

HIGHLANDS — 6-18-20-15-3 — 62

Conner (64) – Hamilton 30, Strange 14, Simpson 10, Kerns 4, Craddock 2, Depenbrock 2, Fisher 2

Highlands (62) – Barber 18, Green 17, Macke 9, Mills 7, Adrienne Harris 6, Alyssa Harris 3, Bucher 2

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