FIRTH--Abby Schiess provided her own memorable ending to senior night in Wednesday's girls basketball game versus West Jefferson.
With one second left on the clock in the fourth quarter and the game tied 38-38, Schiess was fouled on her way to the basket.
The packed Firth High School gym was already loud, and the decibel went up from the West Jefferson faithful when she released her first shot. It missed. The second one found nylon, however, prompting cheers from the Firth bench.
Those cheers became deafening once time expired and the pep band began playing, and Schiess found herself surrounded by teammates celebrating the shot that gave Firth the 39-38 Nuclear Conference win. She finished the night with a game-high 16 points and a 4-for-6 foul shooting performance.
"I felt pretty confident," Schiess said of preparing to take her second shot. "I knew my team supported me. If I believed in myself, it would go in."
Firth head coach Sharla Cook also had confidence in her senior starting post, and she had an unobscured view of the final second. Schiess was shooting at the basket right in front of Firth's bench.
"She's an amazing free throw shooter," Cook said. "I had faith that she would hit that shot."
Firth's win gave the Cougars (12-7) a regular season split versus West Jefferson (14-6) and further tightened an already tight Nuclear Conference standings. Now tied for second with identical conference records of 4-3, the Panthers and Cougars each have one regular season conference game left before the 2A District 6 tournament begins Tuesday.
With district seeds weighing in the balance of Wednesday's game, West Jefferson senior Jordi Holdaway played for the first time since Jan. 5. Sporting a wrap around the left knee that had kept her sidelined for three games, the starting point guard and District 6's leading scorer had 15 points Wednesday and was subbed out numerous times due to accumulating four personal fouls.
"Jordi just plays with a lot of heart," West Jefferson coach Jalena Dixon said. "She helps the other girls to rise up. I was proud of all my girls tonight. They haven't quite peaked, but they're getting there."
It was evident from the first quarter that Wednesday's game would live up to both coaches' predictions of being just as tight as the Jan. 5 meeting (a 38-32 West Jefferson win). A Schiess turnaround jumper gave the Cougars an 8-6 lead after the first quarter before two more lead changes occurred--the first off a Shaylee Anhder jumper at 1:43 and the second off a Kiley Mecham 1-of-2 free throw performance at 1:39 to put Firth back up 17-16. Hailey Gee scored the last bucket of the half with nine seconds left to give Firth a 19-16 halftime lead.
Holdaway and fellow senior starter Makiah Rogers went to work in the third quarter, combining to score nine of West Jefferson's 13 points. Five lead changes occurred in the quarter, including three consecutive from 6:40 to 5:30 capped off by a Rogers 3 to put the Panthers up 23-21. Gee and Schiess prompted the other two lead changes, the latter of which put Firth up 27-25 thanks to a Schiess turnaround jumper. Rogers scored with 49 seconds left to knot the score at 29 to end the quarter.
Holdaway gave the lead back to West Jefferson to open the fourth before more lead changes occurred. She went 2-for-2 from the line with 34 seconds left to tie the game, but Saige Moss fouled Schiess to set up the last second heroics.
Cook and Schiess said they entered Wednesday's game expecting to face Holdaway, who had been day-by-day since injuring her knee in the Jan. 5 Firth game.
"We prepared like she would play," Schiess said. "We knew that if we worked together, we would come out on top."
Rogers added 10 points for West Jefferson, which hosts Ririe on Friday in its regular season finale. Gee added 14 for Firth, which ends the regular season Friday at Salmon.
Schiess and both head coaches said Wednesday provided ample preparation for an always intense district tournament.
"It provides the chance to work on things you can't simulate in practice," Cook said. "You make mistakes, you do some things right. Our district tournament is shaping up to be super close."