MOKANE — South Callaway trailed by two points with senior Hailee Potter at the line but couldn't tip in the miss.
The Lady Bulldogs opened the season with a mostly new starting lineup Monday night at home against Montgomery County and lost 67-65. Senior Raegan Brown scored 42 points to lead all scorers but wasn't able to add two more with the last chance nudge after Potter intentionally missed the free-throw attempt after hitting the first.
A season after running out a district championship lineup that included all-state player Paige Clubb, all-conference player DeLaney Horstman, and Kendall Dillon, South Callaway (0-1) have Brown and Potter for a fourth straight year along new faces: freshman Reagan Arrowood and juniors Kesler Finney and Lacey Mathews. Arrowood finished with seven points, while Potter added five to back Brown's Herculean effort.
South Callaway coach Daniel Burns said the new five faced a tough first test in Montgomery County (1-0) — which won 20 games a season ago — as the Lady Wildcats did a nice job of obstructing South Callaway passing lanes and applying pressure, which led to some early Lady Bulldog mistakes.
"We just had some self-inflicted wounds early and at inopportune times," Burns said. "We had opportunities to go up, and we wouldn't take care of the ball."
Montgomery County was led by Bailey Fischer's 15 points and Olivia Shaw's 13 going inside, while Malia Rodgers led the team with her 22 points, making key shots from the perimeter. Fischer muscled in an early three-point play through a South Callaway foul for a 5-4 lead before Brown found her third lane to the hoop for a score and a 6-5 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs were having trouble running its offense with a Wildcat pouncing on a pass and then Montgomery County took advantage of the slow start with a 12-5 to end the first quarter with a 17-11 lead.
Brown hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer before the end of the first and continued to be the South Callaway offense in the second, scoring 19 of its 22 points to trail 24-22 with 3:39 until halftime, as Arrowood added a 3-pointer along the way.
Burns said the loss of players like Clubb and Horstmann from a year ago are obviously big losses so the Lady Bulldogs just need this new lineup to gel and they should be fine.
"We've got three new starters," Burns said. "We've got two girls that have started since they were freshman, and we got new faces. We knew that going in. Overall, I'm super proud of the effort, we kept each other up, they were positive and cheered each other on."
Montgomery County came out of halftime with a 34-27 lead, despite Brown's 23 first-half points, and eventually increased the lead to 45-30 about halfway through the third quarter after an 11-3 run. The Lady Wildcats didn't give up as many transition baskets to Brown by making contact with her at the top of the key as South Callaway needed more Lady Bulldogs in the fight.
Potter, a senior, scored her first four points in a matter of seconds to make it 47-42. South Callaway ended the third quarter down 52-49 after the second Brown buzzer-beating 3-pointer as she heaved it while on the run.
With this momentum going into the final frame, senior Grace Pontius added to her five points with some key 3-pointers to finish with 11 points off the bench. Her last one shaved the Lady Wildcat lead to 65-61 with 1:38 left in the game after Rodgers hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
Burns said the production he saw from Pontius played a huge role in the Lady Bulldogs' comeback along with other things as they found themselves trailing 66-64 with 20 seconds left after a contested 3-pointer by Brown.
"Grace Pontius came off the bench and hit three huge shots," Burns said. "We had a few stops on defense. We also got to the free throw line and went 15-for-20."
Montgomery County missed a free throw after South Callaway forced themselves into the penalty to extend the game. Maddy Queathem stood in South Callaway's way on the pivotal possession as she intercepted an entry pass inside to freshman McKenzie Laughlin as Rodgers was going to the line with four seconds on the clock.
Rodgers made the first but missed the second as the Lady Wildcats immediately fouled to put Potter and South Callaway in the precarious situation of needing to intentionally to miss a free throw to tie the game. Potter drained the first one before bouncing the miss to the leaping Brown only for the tip-in to fall short.
"We got the offensive rebound and were coming down in transition," Burns said. "We have somebody open, we don't see her and we turn the ball over. We executed (tip-in attempt) really well except for it going in so I can't be upset about that. A lot of the stuff is on the fly because early in the season, we don't have time to get all that stuff in."
Burns said seeing his team in the position was encouraging after falling behind by double digits earlier in the game. While the Lady Bulldogs didn't get the win, he said the lineup and the rest of the team have plenty of time to develop chemistry before playing next Tuesday at Van-Far.
"We've got some maturing to do," Burns said. "I'm inspired by some of the stuff that I saw tonight. Some girls are going to have to step up because they're going to try take (Brown) away. I would do the same thing, but different girls are going to step up. It was Grace tonight, and I think there will be others ahead of us."