JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The injuries finally caught up with Three Rivers.
Nov 21: Jay Perry, ACL.
Nov. 29: Kabrien Rogers, medical.
Jan. 21: Alex Kohler, Achilles.
Feb. 8: Kaylee Heggemann, ACL.
March 3: Ge'Naisha Robinson, MCL.
One boulder after another crushed Three Rivers College's deep, preseason bench.
The last one fell in the Region XVI semifinals on the leading scorer's right knee. It ended up being too much to overcome, and the top seed Lady Raiders lost to No. 5 Mineral Area 72-62 on Friday in Jefferson City.
"We've had our backs against the wall since Arkansas Baptist when Jay Perry went down," Three Rivers coach Jeff Walk said. "If we stay healthy, we win those games by 25."
Three Rivers started the season with 13 players and finished with eight. The five injured players collectively averaged about 35 points per game. In the preseason and early on, the Lady Raiders flexed the strength of their bench in every game.
Walk subbed in complete line changes early and often in 2016, and the Lady Raiders rarely slowed down their relentless press. Three Rivers averaged 35.7 points off the bench in the month of November. In December, the Lady Raiders averaged 24.2 points off the bench. That dropped to 22.4 in January, 18.9 in February, and they scored 17 points off the bench against Mineral Area on Friday. Put another way, Three Rivers also averaged 38.1 points off the bench before Perry tore her ACL on Nov. 21. In 22 games without Perry, Three Rivers averaged 21.2 points off the bench. In 21 games without Rogers, it was 21.5. In 10 games without Kohler, it was 19.6 points. In five games without Heggemann, it was 16 points.
"You can what if that to death. But at the end of the day you have to play whatever is there. The kids gave it everything they had," Walk said. Early in the second quarter, Robinson scored through a foul to put the Lady Raiders (22-8) ahead by 10. At the other end of the floor, she grabbed a defensive rebound and was hurt on the landing. After a few minutes on the floor, she was helped to the bench without putting any weight on her right knee.
The Lady Raiders' biggest run, biggest lead, and all their momentum went with her. "I had an and-1, and I think I popped it. Then I got the rebound and I came down, it just sent a pain through it and I couldn't go," said Robinson, who tried in vain to talk her way back into the game in the second half. "I just wanted to get back in, but I couldn't do it." She had five points, five rebounds and six steals in 11 minutes.
Three Rivers got two more steals the rest of the game. With more than 16 points a game on the bench in a T-shirt and an ice wrap, the Lady Cardinals were back within one possession within 3 minutes. Khiandra Perry, who led Mineral Area with 19 points, finished a three-point play to tie the game at 25 with less than a minute left in the first half. De'Nayia Holmes sank a 3 with seconds remaining to put Three Rivers in front, but Perry caught a sank a 30-footer at the buzzer to again tie the game at the half.
Three Rivers rallied early in the second half and was up by nine late in the third quarter. Michael Everhart, who led Three Rivers with 12 points, sank a pair of 3s to open the second half. Holmes added a three-point play, and with 2 minutes to go, Jalisa Smith sank her first 3 of the season, and only her second attempt, to make it 46-37. After her bucket, though, the Lady Cardinals reversed course and went on an 18-1 run.
"We did everything we needed to do except put the ball in the basket. (Robinson) does a bunch of stuff for us offensively," Walk said. Perry's 3 early in the fourth quarter put the Lady Cardinals (14-15) ahead for the first time, and they wouldn't trail again. The Lady Raiders started fouling with under two minutes to play and cut the lead to five points after Camdyn McDaniel sank a 25-footer with 43 seconds left. Mineral Area, though, was 7 for 8 on free throws after that and took its first double-digit lead when it set the final score. "It is just frustrating how we worked hard, finished No. 1 in the region, and then lost the first game.
That's the most frustrating thing," Three Rivers sophomore Destiney Williams said. "They just picked up their momentum, they started making shots and we didn't match them." Holmes and McDaniel both finished with 10 points. The Lady Raiders shot 29.5 percent from the floor and took 32 3-point attempts. Markeia Porter, who was 4 for 7 shooting, was the only Lady Raiders to shoot 50 percent or better.
"I think the kids battled," Walk said. "This time of the year, if you don't shoot the ball very well, I don't care what kind of defense you play or what you do, if you don't make shots you are going to put yourself in a position not to win."
Three Rivers was 7 for 12 on free-throw attempts, while Mineral Area was 22 for 28. Allie Golden had a season high 16 points for Mineral Area, 12 of that in the fourth quarter. Three Rivers will lose sophomores Perry, Robinson, Williams, Everhart, McDaniel, Joya Smith and Jalisa Smith.