Down 12 points in the fourth quarter, the Avon girls basketball team had one last stand to make against visiting Berea-Midpark on Jan. 5.

And fight the Eagles did. They deployed a full-court press and forced eight Titans turnovers, then converted those extra possessions into buckets. A 52-40 deficit early in the frame dwindled to 57-55 as senior guard Abby Liber laid the ball in off a steal with 34.7 seconds left.

Despite coming so close to evening things up, a pair of Kendall Braaten free throws in the final seconds spoiled the rally in a 59-55 loss.

After returning home from a successful 3-0 holiday tournament trip to Orlando, the rugged Southwestern Conference schedule made for a welcome that wasn’t so warm.

“We definitely had fight and energy at the end that brought us back into the game,” Eagles coach Meghan Larrick said. “But we had some mental errors in game-time situations, so we need to go back to situational-type stuff in practice to make sure we’re better prepared mentally for those situations at the end of the game.”

Even in a loss, the Eagles (7-3, 3-3 SWC) showed plenty of resolve. Down by two following Liber’s score, sophomore Sarai Kittleberger stole the ball from Titans (9-3, 5-2 SWC) guard Lauren Yee near midcourt. An Alexis Titas 3-point attempt from the right corner that would’ve given the Eagles their first lead of the half hit the rim and was rebounded by the Titans, who called a timeout.

With the Eagles forced to foul to stop the clock, Braaten was sent to the line for a 1-and-1 with 9.2 seconds to go and calmly hit both to push the Titan lead to four. The Eagles wanted a quick 3-pointer from the left corner on the ensuing possession, but the Titans snuffed it out and Yee stole the ball just before the final horn.

“As a coaching staff, we need to do a better job preparing our girls for a (late-game) situation like that,” Larrick said. “It’s a lot for a high school girl, and for a lot of them that’s the first time they’ve been in a situation like that. It’s a learning curve, and, hopefully, we can learn from it and improve in a situation like that.”

Along with two steals and two blocks, Kittleberger provided a big defensive lift off the bench. She headed up the press toward the end of the game, pressuring the Titans’ top two guards in Braaten and Yee, and also grabbed four offensive rebounds that extended possessions.

“She’s definitely a very versatile basketball player. Very physical, very athletic,” Larrick said. “I definitely think she brings that element of physicality to us, that energy we need on both ends of the floor.”

Brooke Laub led the Eagles with 19 points, combining with Ryann Clapham to knock down seven of the team’s eight 3-pointers. Clapham finished with 12 points – all on 3-pointers – including a pair in the fourth quarter that helped keep the team within striking distance. Liber scored 15 with a team-high five rebounds.

As strongly as the Eagles closed the game, a nightmarish third quarter hurt their cause. With a spread-out offense and talented shooters all over the floor, Braaten and Lauren Lantow combined to shoot 5-of-6 from 3-point range during the eight-minute period, helping the Titans to a 47-37 lead. Conversely, the Eagles committed six turnovers and couldn’t counter the barrage of deep shots.

The Eagles led 13-10 after the first quarter, but the Titans matched their energy and took a 24-22 lead at halftime when Yee banked home a putback of her own shot. She finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Braaten scored a game-high 24 points, and Lantow added 14 and seven boards.

“I always tell the girls a road game on a Wednesday is tough,” Titans coach Kevin Braaten said. “And we haven’t won very much here in Avon. They’re a great program. I’m proud of my kids. They made a lot of shots in the third quarter and just did enough in the fourth to hold on.”

After shooting a chilly 34% and only hitting 1-of-11 threes in the first half, the team heated up to 52% over the latter 16 minutes and was 7-11 from distance.

“I knew when we didn’t make them in the first half, we were kind of due,” Kevin Braaten said. “That’s what our identity is. Kendall and Lauren stepped up with those threes in the third quarter and that was critical.”

The schedule won’t get any easier for Avon, which hosts Midview tonight at 7:15 as it begins a second run through the SWC. Amherst will visit Avon High on Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. start.

Contact this reporter at sports@westlifenews.com or 440-871-5797.

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