ABILENE — For the second year in a row, the May Lady Tigers' basketball season reached a roadblock two victories shy of the state tournament.
The No. 9 Lady Tigers were dealt a season-ending 44-39 loss by the No. 20 Klondike Lady Cougars Friday night in the Region II-A semifinals at Abilene Christian University's Moody Coliseum.
“The farther you go the more it hurts whenever you do lose,” said May head coach Jeff Blackburn.
The Lady Tigers (27-5), champions of District 15, trimmed what was a seven-point deficit in the third period to a single bucket, 38-36, just 32 seconds into the fourth quarter when freshman Roberta Robinette sank a jumper from the perimeter.
Unfortunately for the Lady Tigers, that was their only points of the period until six seconds remained when Kelsie Gage knocked down a three-pointer. The 7:22 scoring drought in the fourth period proved to be the difference, as Klondike (25-5) mustered just six points during the final frame.
“(Klondike) played really good defense on us and sometimes when teams play that good on defense you don't really shoot in rhythm,” Blackburn said. “You think you're finally open and hurry your shot, and that makes it hard to make the shot sometimes.”
Robinette paced May with 13 points trailed by nine from Yary Rodriguez, six from Kyndi Kilgo, four from Kelsey Chambers, three each from Gage and Skylar Jenkins and one point from Kaylee Harris.
Klondike was led by Kameron Riddle, who scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half.
“(Riddle) is a good player,” Blackburn said. “When they hit her inside, if we did cover her up they'd kick it back out and hit a three. Give them credit for hitting their shots.”
Cheyenne Gruben chipped in eight points for the Lady Cougars followed by Macy Sharp and Haleigh Archer with six apiece, Megan Arismendez with five, Brenda Friesen with three and Alexi Bushong with a bucket.
Trailing 28-27 with 5:34 left in the third period, May fell victim to a six-point spurt by Klondike — all from Riddle — as the Lady Tigers faced their largest deficit, 34-27, at the 3:45 mark.
“We didn't seem to figure out what they were doing and wouldn't rotate to it on defense,” Blackburn said. “We gave up so many easy shots. We would work our tails off to get a shot and get a score and then we'd come back and give up an easy one. They were doing some cutting and we just didn't pick it up. That falls on me because I didn't make the right adjustments defensively.”
The Lady Tigers were able to close the gap to 38-34 by the end of the third period, sparked by buckets from Rodriguez and Robinette along with a three-pointer by Kilgo. May also tallied the first points of the fourth period to cap a 9-4 run before the offense went ice cold.
May surrendered the game's first five points and trailed 14-9 after one quarter, but made a strong push in the second period. With 5:08 left before halftime, Robinette recorded a steal and a layup to give the Lady Tigers their first lead, 19-18.
“She also did that last week” Blackburn said in regard to the spark Robinette provided offensively. “We have a bright future with her. We've got a lot of good players coming back and we fully expect to make a run next year despite going to a new region.”
The lead changed hands four times in the quarter before Klondike seized a 24-23 halftime advantage. The Lady Cougars were aided by 9 of 11 free throw shooting in the first half, and 12 of 20 for the game. The Lady Tigers converted 4 of 7 first-half free throws, and never stepped to the foul line in the second half.
“I guess that's a May thing. Last year here they shot 32 free throws and we shot two,” Blackburn said, referring to the 61-43 loss to O'Donnell in the regional semifinals in 2017. “We do foul some. We're usually aggressive and that happens.”
Friday's contest marked the ended of the careers for seven Lady Tigers — Rodriguez, Gage, Jenkins, Megan Dewell, Taylor Cox, Patricia Ray and Jaycee Moses.
“The seniors we're losing, they've had great careers and we're going to sorely miss them I promise you,” Blackburn said. “This is a terrific group of young girls and it was a joy coaching them. They came to practice hard every day, they came to play in every game and never wanted to back down to anybody. And they beat a few teams they probably shouldn't have.”