RICHFIELD — St. Joseph's Katie Panushka was actually trying to draw a foul when she stepped around a Rich defender, leaned to the left and tossed up a rawhide prayer.
"Miracle of miracles," said St. Joseph coach Joe Cravens of the 3-point shot that sent his team's 1A semifinal game against the Rebels into the first of two overtimes Friday night at the Sevier Valley Center.
The first overtime saw both teams score just two points, but in the second overtime, sophmore guard Mady White hit a back-breaking 3-pointer that gave St. Joseph a lead it never relinquished in what was ultimately a 56-44 win over Rich.
The wild victory enables the top-ranked Jayhawks to defend their title Saturday night at the Sevier Valley Center against another quick, athletic, fast-pasted team — third-ranked Piute.
As it played out, Panushka's miracle shot kept her team alive.
"Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you," said Cravens. "I have a little sympathy for (Rich coach) Scott (Ferguson) that he gets beat on a shot like that. But how fitting that it's Katie Panushka. She's been a great leader and the heart and soul of our team all year."
Panushka said she never looked to pass on the play despite the Rebels' stifling defense.
"The play was for me," said the senior, who finished with 24 points. "Right before it happened, Cravens said, 'This is it.' And I just knew it was my play."
The shot hit the glass and broke the hearts of every Rebel fan as the second-ranked squad looked poised to extract a little revenge against the team that it lost to in the state championship game last season.
"I think (Rich) was very motivated obviously," said Cravens, who looked exhausted after the thrill ride that included a 13-point comeback for the Jayhawks. "They really took it to us early with what they do best. They ran the floor; (Center Alisa Petersen) ran the floor, and we didn't respond very well. I thought coach (Scott Ferguson) had an excellent, excellent game plan against us."
The Rebels led the game 30-23 at halftime, and the Jayhawks wouldn't lead at all until Liz Tomon hit a layup two minutes into the third quarter.
"In this type of setting, against that type of team, (a double-digit deficit) is almost 'Katie bar the door,'" he said. "We showed some patience and toughness."
Cravens wasn't giving away any secrets about what changes he made at halftime, but there was one significant difference: After a monster first half in which she dominated the glass, Rich center Alisa Petersen scored just six points in the second half and both overtimes. She finished the game with 20 points.
"We had to go back to the drawing board at halftime," he said. "We covered the post a little different in the second half, but it was almost as if (Ferguson) anticipated what we were going to do and was able to counter it. Fortunately, we were able to counter some ourselves. And then we hit some shots."
Cravens then smiled as he leaned against the gray, brick wall in the basement of the Sevier Valley Center and expressed pride in the group that came back in its final region victory and has now come back twice in the state tournament to keep its perfect season alive.
"This is a really mentally tough group of girls," he said. "And I've never said that in my life."