KFHS wins in final seconds

Published 10:30 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The visitors from Grassfield took their first lead of the game over King’s Fork with a little more than a minute to play in overtime on Wednesday evening. The ball was in the air around the Lady Bulldogs’ basket as players madly reached for it. However, the Lady Grizzlies’ reach could not exceed junior center Khadedra Croker’s grasp, as she scored with 3.7 seconds remaining and the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the district tournament final with a thrilling 56-55 victory.

King’s Fork led 14-6 after the first quarter, 28-22 at halftime and 43-38 at the end of the third. Grassfield was staying within striking distance for the whole game. In the fourth quarter, the lead shrunk again to three, 45-42.

King’s Fork junior center Khadedra Croker soars above the Grassfield defense on Wednesday night during the semifinal round of the district tournament at King’s Fork High School. Croker later put in the go-ahead basket with 3.7 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Lady Bulldogs a dramatic 56-55 win.

“In the fourth quarter, I think we started more of trying not to lose more than winning,” Lady Bulldogs head coach Maurice Fofana said.

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He also cited what he felt was inconsistent officiating as something that began to wear on his kids in what was, at times, a very physical game.

“I knew they were going to be physical; we just had to be physical too,” King’s Fork senior wing Chantel Roberts said.

In the first half, the officials heavily penalized the Lady Grizzlies for their aggressive play, and some of their players got in foul trouble as a result. Then, in the second half, the Lady Bulldogs were given a short leash on which to play defense.

“It kind of went both ways,” Fofana said. “I’m not complaining, but I just like for it to be consistent.”

He thought that his team struggled adapting to the change.

With 5:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, time stopped in more than one way for King’s Fork when Croker went down to the floor after some contact with the defender. As the trainer went to check on her, tears began streaming down Croker’s face.

“I’ve had Khadedra for three years,” Fofana said. “I’ve never seen her cry. I’ve seen her go down, I’ve seen her get hurt, I’ve seen her twist her ankle, I’ve seen her hit her knees, I’ve seen her do just about everything. I’ve never seen her cry. When I saw her cry, I thought she was seriously hurt.”

She was able to hobble off a couple minutes later. The Bulldogs lead by a mere three points and were now missing their leading scorer.

“And my thing was, I’m just telling the team, ‘Listen, we got to finish it for her,’” Fofana said.

Roberts shifted to shoulder the load that Croker normally carries.

“I have to take on whoever she’s guarding or be the help in the back for the defense, because usually that’s what (Khadedra) does,” Roberts said.

Roberts helped keep her team in the lead, but the Lady Grizzlies closed the gap to two points and drew a foul with 1:58 remaining. Croker left the arena briefly, but then got taped up and returned to the bench. She checked back into the game just before Grassfield tied it up at 49.

No one scored in regulation after that. In overtime, the Lady Bulldogs experienced the loss of another valuable starter, point guard Brittany Alston, who went down with 1:46 to play. They soldiered on.

Senior shooting guard Shaikeyla Jordan hit a free throw to make it 52-51 with 1:29 remaining. The Lady Grizzlies got their first lead moments later, but Roberts responded with a short-range field goal — 54-53. Grassfield took the advantage back.

The Lady Bulldogs had one final possession. It featured multiple shots and offensive rebounds, but then Croker and a crowd of Grassfield players were straining for the ball.

“I was hopping on that one leg, like, ‘Come on, please, come on, come on!’” Croker said. “And then when it went it, I was like, ‘Hallelujah!’ I was like, ‘We got to play good defense, good defense. That’s all I was thinking. Good defense.’”

After a timeout with 3.7 second remaining, Fofana had his team prepared.

“I told them exactly what they were going to run, exactly what they were going to do, and we kind of twisted them to go to the sideline, which we were supposed to have a trap there, and we didn’t get it,” he said. “(But Grassfield) threw it away. Still, I give that credit to the defense.”

Croker led the team with 18 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks. Roberts had 12 points and five boards.

With this win, the Lady Bulldogs have now created a doubleheader of King’s Fork district tournament championship games on Friday at King’s Fork High School. The girls will play at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:45 p.m.