Malson’s 3 as time expires caps Margaretta’s comeback against Tigers

ATTICA — It is a tough pill to swallow.

After leading by 15 points in the third quarter and 10 early the fourth quarter, Seneca East was frazzled by a high-intensity press that led to an unfortunate ending.

Margaretta senior Taylor Malson hit a 3-pointer as time expired to lift the Division III No. 3 Polar Bears past Seneca East 61-58 in non-league action on Tuesday.

“When you are in a huddle and one of 10,000 things can happen, you have to stick to the game plan,” SE coach Don Vogt said. “We have been in games where we had the last shot and we missed. We tell them the game was not determined by that one shot and I would say the same held true here. Whatever play they ran, it should not have come down to that.”

Malson opened the fourth quarter scoring with a triple and capped the comeback with the biggest shot of the season thus far for Margaretta.

“That is exactly how we drew it up,” Margaretta coach Eric Kochendoerfer said. “I am going to give credit to coach (Ray) Neill. That is one of coach Neill’s plays that he brought over from his previous job. We talked about what we were going to do to get Taylor Malson a shot.”

After Malson’s first 3-pointer cut the Seneca East (18-3) lead to 48-41, Makenna Depinet scored for the Tigers. Moore scored on a steal before her bucket with 4:39 left brought Margaretta (19-1) within 50-45.

The margin was still five points later when Elliana Schaefer drilled a triple. Jessica Bowerman made two free throws and Depinet scored after a steal to put the Tigers back up 56-50. From there, Kylie Leibacher scored down low and split two free throws for Margaretta. After an empty possession by Seneca East, Schaefer canned her second 3-pointer to tie the game at 56.

Bailey Hamilton was fouled and split two free throws to push the Tigers back ahead, but Leibacher connected on two free throws with a minute remaining. Schaefer fouled out going for a jump ball call, but Alexis Hicks split the two free throws with 36.1 seconds left. Margaretta ran the clock down to 13.8 seconds before calling timeout to set up Malson’s heroics.

“I think the press bothered us,” Vogt said. “Margaretta played their style of game and sped up things. It was difficult for us to combat that. I think we got caught up.”

It would have been hard to believe that the late-game situation was possible after watching the first three quarters. The Polar Bears had early leads of 3-2 and 5-4, but 10 straight points by Seneca East — capped by consecutive buckets by Depinet — gave the Tigers an early 14-5 lead.

Moore scored on an offensive rebound before Malson drew the Polar Bears within five points after the first quarter. Margaretta got back as close as three points in the second quarter, but two tallies by Depinet and another by Hicks pushed Seneca East back ahead, 22-13.

Devyne Eisenhauer scored for the Polar Bears, but Depinet canned a triple and a score by Amelia Boes gave the Tigers a 27-15 advantage. Margaretta drew within 27-22 after a jumper by Moore, but Bowerman hit two free throws then drilled a one-handed 60-footer at the buzzer to give Seneca East a 32-24 lead at halftime.

“We talked at halftime that this was a good game to get us ready for tournaments,” Kochendoerfer said. “I was upset at halftime, but we talked about how we would handle these situations in the tournament. There is going to be a time where we are down in the tournament against a good team.”

The Tigers kept the momentum for most of the third quarter. Seneca East used a 6-2 run over the first half of the quarter to extend the margin to 40-26. After Eisenhauer hit a baseline jumper, Bowerman hit her second triple of the game for the Tigers’ biggest lead at 15 points with 3:12 left in the third quarter.

“We knocked down some big shots,” Kochendoerfer said of the comeback. “The big thing is our girls do not quit. There is no quit in these girls. We could be down 30 points with two minutes left and we are still going to press and think we are going to win.”

Malson’s 17 points topped Margaretta while Eisenhauer tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“Margaretta has four 3-point shooting weapons,” Vogt said. “We saw a lot from them during the game. They went to the post. They shot the 3. They went back and forth. They were difficult to defend. They are No. 3 in Division III for a reason. They have excellent ball-handling skills. They have excellent shooting skills.”

Bowerman paced Seneca East with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

“Jessica has one of the best motors I have ever been around,” Kochendoerfer said of the junior. “She is a matchup nightmare just because she plays so hard. She is non-stop. She gets on the glass and reads the basketball really well coming off her hand.”

Depinet added 20 points for the Tigers.

“I think a game like this is good for the tournament,” Vogt said. “I know the kids are disappointed and hurting. You want these kind of games and you want to compete in these kinds of games because you want to continue to measure where you are at.”