ROME — Haley Barry wasn’t sure the shot was going to find the bottom of the net.
It took a weird bounce, before hitting the bottom of the net.
The shot put Athens ahead in overtime, and they never relinquished that lead, winning 54-49 in overtime over Northeast Bradford in the NTL Showcase.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it because it bounced weird, but it went in and I thought this is a great start, here we are going to do this,” Barry said.
It was a back and forth game throughout for the two teams.
In the third quarter Athens had taken a 29-22 lead over Northeast Bradford, the biggest lead either team had in the game.
However, the Panthers quickly came right back, as Lauryn Jones hit a three and the Panthers eventually tied things up, and went ahead.
In the fourth quarter it was NEB taking their biggest lead, as they went up by five points with about five minutes to go.
It was a Jones three that had put the Panthers up five, and her friend, and travel teammate Kayleigh Miller then hit a three for Athens to cut it back to a two-point contest.
“It was a big shot,” Miller said of her three. “I just came off the screen and shot it, but yeah, we are good friends.”
For Athens, falling behind by five, there were definitely some nerves.
“I was so nervous,” Barry said. “Then our coach was yelling, then it was like ‘oh my gosh,’ it was crazy.”
The Wildcats knew they just had to keep their composure.
“We had to refocus, but I think we came together as a team for sure,” Miller said.
Miller eventually tied the game for Athens on a drive to the basket and Barry hit two free throws with 1:38 left in regulation to put Athens up by two.
“I just had to keep focus,” Barry said. “I was like I’ve got to make it, I’ve got to do this for my team, and I made it.”
NEB answered with some clutch free throws of their own as Vicky Rought missed a shot, grabbed her own rebound and was fouled on the putback. She hit both free throws to tie things at 43 with 1:24 left in the game.
Athens held the ball for the final shot, but couldn’t convert in regulation. For the Wildcats players it was tough holding the ball that long, but they knew they didn’t want NEB to have a shot to win it in regulation.
“I was getting really anxious because I couldn’t get the ball because they were guarding me really hard, but it worked out,” Miller said.
In the overtime period it was Barry who started things with the shot to put them up to.
“It gave us a lot of momentum going forward,” Miller said.
Caydence Macik then put Athens up by four.
Down four, the Panthers got to the line twice, but missed the front end of one-and-ones, leaving the deficit at four.
Macik went 4-for-4 in overtime for Athens, and Athens hit their first seven free throws of the overtime period to seal the win.
“We work on free throws a lot,” Macik said. “It was not that difficult, because coach always has us practicing them, but it was nerve-wracking.”
NEB tried to force Athens to put the ball in the hands of Macik, and then foul her, instead of one of the guards, and the young post player made them pay.
“I was super nervous,” Macik said of getting the ball in overtime. “I’m not a big dribbler, but I tried to step up.”
Macik was a force all night for the Wildcats, with 27 points and 13 rebounds, with four steals, in the win.
“They definitely have size,” Macik said of NEB. “Coach kept telling me to use my athleticism and it seemed to work pretty well.
“Usually I just finish around the rim, but today I was challenged to take it to the basket on my own.”
“But, you finished, you did it,” Barry said. “She definitely hustled a lot.”
For the Wildcats it was the speed of Macik that helped them inside.
“It was a big help, she ran down the floor and we kicked it to her inside.”
For Athens, in that overtime period everyone played well.
“Everyone stepped up, just getting the rebound and kicking it down the floor and they made their free throws,” Miller said.
Now the Wildcats head to the final at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Mansfield University in a rubber-match with Towanda, after the teams split this year.
“We are so happy, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Miller said. “I’m so excited to get back.”
“I am so hyped,” Macik said. “I haven’t done it, everyone but me has been there, so that is what I wanted, I wanted to get there.”
Miller had 12 points for Athens, with three threes, Barry had seven, Megan Collins had five and Kasidy Peterson had three, hitting three big free throws in overtime.
Avery Priester had nine assists and three steals, with three boards and Barry had six rebounds. Miller had two boards, two steals and three assists.
Jones had 16 for NEB, hitting four threes, adding two steals.
Maisie Neuber had 12 points, with three steals and nine boards.
Rought had nine for the Panthers, with eight rebounds and Jorja Welch had eight points and 10 boards.
Lindsay Moore had four points, two steals and two rebounds.