Recorder Sports Staff
JOHNSTOWN - Everything went just as Fort Plain girls basketball coach Phil Karker had planned - except for the end result.
With the Lady Hilltoppers trailing Mekeel Christian Academy by one point with two seconds left in Tuesday's Western Athletic Conference Cup semifinal at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Karker drew up the perfect play - Abby Boyer inbounding, with Haley Kilmartin cutting wide open toward the basket.
Boyer floated the pass in to Kilmartin, who was fouled by Lindsay McCarty with 0.1 seconds to play - and then the plan went awry.
Kilmartin missed the first free throw, then - with a chance to force overtime by making the second - hit the front of the rim as Fort Plain dropped a 49-48 heartbreaker and left Karker to console his tear-ridden junior star.
"I just told her she fought hard. She was the one we wanted on the line, if we had to pick," Karker said. "She did a great job, but she's tired. She's gassed. She's a year out of a torn ACL, so she's not 100 percent. She's the kid that I would want to take the last shot, and Abby's the one I would definitely want to make the pass."
Fort Plain (15-2) had rallied from a 12-point deficit with five minutes to play, disrupting MCA's rhythm with a full-court press that completely flustered the Lions down the stretch and pulling within 49-48 when Boyer hit a pair of free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining.
"We've never run that press before, so that's something we kind of picked up on the fly," Karker said. "We've run something similar before, but not the zone principles like we were doing. They did a nice job with that, and I think that press rattled them."
Then, as the Lady Hilltoppers scrambled for a steal or a foul in the waning seconds, MCA's Macie Holmes was called for traveling with two seconds left and Karker got the chance to dial up the last-ditch play he'd had his team practice leading up to the game.
Everything came together like clockwork - except for sealing the Lady Hilltoppers' berth in Friday's WAC Cup championship game.
"We practiced it yesterday, had it all set up," Karker said. "I don't know if the pass was too short, but that's exactly what we wanted."
"At the end of the year, we always go through certain situations like that," he added. "They knew what to do, but sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn't."
Despite not having played since a Feb. 1 win over St. Johnsville, Fort Plain started quickly, with Jenna Barhydt scoring the Lady Hilltoppers' first eight points to lead the team to a 15-13 lead after one quarter. Fort Plain held on for a 22-21 lead at the half, but as the game got sloppy in the second half, MCA took command behind sharpshooter Macie Holmes, who posted a game-high 22 points.
"They shoot the ball well, and we knew that coming in," Karker said. "I pulled a (former NFL head coach) Dennis Green. They are who we thought they were - young and shooters."
Karker acknowledged that the loss - after Fort Plain breezed to an undefeated regular season in the WAC North - would hamper his club heading into today's Section II seeding meeting.
"It hurts us every year when that happens," he said. "You don't want to say it's the difference in competition, but I think that has a lot to do with it. They're in battles each and every night (in the WAC South), and we really aren't. They say, 'Well, schedule somebody better,' and you can't with the budget the way that it is."
In the second girls' semifinal, WAC North runner-up went stride-for-stride with WAC South champio Berne-Knox-Westerlo, but the Lady Bulldogs pulled away in the second half behind senior Liz Harvey - Section II's leading scorer - for a 51-33 win to set up Friday's championship game against Mekeel Christian.