Tuesday night's Johnston City Class 2A Sectional semifinal basketball game between Harrisburg and Nashville was more like a chess match than a hoops contest.
Each move was pivotal, well thought out and always excited with precision, but in the end, Nashville's checkmate on Harrisburg resulted in a mid-range jumper by Rachel Kell was the difference for the Hornettes in a 36-32 victory.
The game featured 15 lead changes and six ties, but after Harrisburg's Lotte Miller tied the game at 32-all with the deuce-and-abuse, Kell got her look that she connected on and after a Nashville turnover with 16.4 to play, Miller's runner in the lane resulted in an offensive charge that sent the Hornettes to the line where they were able to put the game away.
Harrisburg head coach Jake Stewart said nothing surprised him in the game, before, during or after.
"We knew their players and what they were going to do," Stewart said. "They knew our players and what we were going to do. It came down to the last minute and Kall got that bucket. There was a 50-50 call on Lotte's charge, we didn't get it and we had to go down foul and defend and we just didn't close."
Harrisburg (24-8) outscored Nashville (24-6) 11-10 in the third quarter to tie the game at 26-all. Prior to that, the two played see-saw basketball in the first half with seven ties and two lead changes.
Harrisburg's only lead of the first half came in the second quarter when Jessica Hopson gave Harrisburg a 9-8 lead on a 3-pointer.
Nashville took a 16-15 lead into the locker room, but to start the second half, the duo of Matty Hawkins and Hopson gave the Bulldogs some life as they combined to score nine points.
In the end, Stewart knew it was going to come down to play here or a play there.
"That's what we talked about (Monday) at practice and that's what we talked to them about before the game and even throughout the game," Stewart said. "It's a one-point game at half and it was tied after the end of the third. We just kept saying, the last three minutes of the game is going to decide who wins. We knew it was going to be low scoring and we felt really good, knowing we wouldn't go away with the score being so low. Nashville just made more plays down the stretch than we did."
Nashville outscored Harrisburg 10-6 in the final eight minutes, going 3-of-8 from the field, while Harrisburg was just 2-of-10.
Nashville head coach Doug Althoff said if there was a difference down the stretch, the edge for his team was rebounding as the Hornettes grabbed 23 rebounds to Harrisburg's 21. Janie Holle had 10 rebounds for Nashville.
"If I had to pick something out, but I would have to go with rebounding," Althoff said. "I think we might have gotten a few more offensive rebounds than they did, but other than that, I thought we were mirror images of each other. There wasn't a whole lot of turnovers on either side. It's just one of those games, where it comes down to the end like that and someone made one and someone didn't."
Kell led all scorers with 18 point, going 6-of-11 from the field and 5-of-10 from behind the arc. Hollie had a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Hawkins and Miller both had 10 points for Harrisburg, while Hopson added eight and Karsyn Davis finished with four points.
Harrisburg finished the game going 12-of-33 from the field and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. At the free throw line, the Bulldogs were 6-of-9. On the flip side, Nashville shot 13-for-35 from the field and 7-of-21 from long range, while knocking down 3-of-7 foul shots.
Harrisburg finished the game with six turnovers to five by Nashville.
"He had us scouted pretty well," Althoff said of Stewart. "I thought their defense was spectacular. We were having fits out there, we just couldn't run sets and it didn't really surprise me because I know they are well coached. I'll be honest, Harrisburg is a really, really good team."
The 24 wins is a season-best for the Bulldogs under Stewart who graduate just one senior in Toni Crisp.
"I thought we played really well tonight," Stewart added. "Anytime you play a team like Nashville, they are going to come in well prepared. They do their stuff really well, but they ran their offense and played defense better than anyone we have played this year.
"I'm proud of our kids, we made it here with one senior and three juniors and going into the season you were to tell me we would be here and have a chance to win with under a minute to go, I would have taken it."
Michael Dann covers prep and college sports for the Harrisburg Daily Register and Eldorado Daily Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.
Nashville 08 08 10 10 -- 36
Harrisburg 06 09 11 06 -- 32
Nashville (24-6): Kasten 1 0-0 3, Ahlers 1 0-3 2, Kell 6 0-0 18, Holle 4 2-2 11, Stanowski 0 1-2 1, Heck 1 0-0 2. Totals: 13 3-7 36.
Harrisburg (24-8): Lo. Miller 3 4-5 10, Hopson 3 0-0 8, Davis 2 0-0 4, Crisp 0 0-0 0, Hawkins 4 2-4 10, Rider 0 0-0 0, Ly. Miller 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 6-9 32.
3-point FG: NV 7 (Kell 6, Kasten), HBG 2 (Hopson). Fouls: NV 8, HBG 11. Turnovers: NV 5, HBG 6.