Keith MacPherson, Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE — Call it the comeback that wasn’t.
After overcoming a 12-0 Sanger start, Gainesville clawed its way all the way back only to have a cold streak undo its efforts as the Lady Leopards would fall 44-39 at home on Friday night.
The long standing rivalry between Gainesville and Sanger lived up to the billing as the two squads traded blows before the Lady Indians would eventually prevail.
The Lady Leopards (20-9, 4-2) saw Sanger score the first 12 points of the game before fighting back to take its first lead of the game in the third quarter on a long 3-pointer from Kiarah Manuel.
The fourth quarter would belong to Sanger (13-10, 2-3) and guard Natalie Castillo. The senior scored nine of her game-high 16 points in the final stanza including a trey with five minutes left that capped off a 7-0 Lady Indians run to regain the lead at 37-34.
With a little more than a minute left in the contest, the Lady Leopards got a sign it just wasn’t their night. After a quick steal and a breakaway, Brittany Royal went up for a put back after rebounding a missed layup. The shot bounced once on the back of the iron before resting perfectly on the rim.
Possession arrow Sanger - Lady Indian ball.
If the rim was more kind and Royal’s shot would have fell, the Lady Leopards would have pulled within three points with Sanger struggling at the free throw line down the stretch. The Lady Indians were 9 of 17 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, only connecting on 1 of 6 in the final two minutes.
Ariannah Kemp, the Lady Leopards leading scorer, was limited to seven points in the game. The junior was held scoreless until 1:30 in the third quarter when she connected on a 14-foot jumper to make it 29-25. She entered the game averaging 17.9 points per game.
Manuel led Gainesville with 11 points. Hali Smith had eight points, Chandler Kemp had six, Brittany Royal had three and Zhanice Lane had two.
Sanger guard Jacy Beam scored the first seven points of the game as part of Sanger’s 12-0 run after tip-off. She would finish with 11 on the night.
The Lady Leopards defense gave Gainesville a chance to get back into the game in the second quarter as it would hold Sanger to two points in the stanza. Gainesville forced the Lady Indians into turnovers on six consecutive possessions at one point in the second quarter.
Sanger wouldn’t score in the second quarter until a runner from Carissa Spiker went in with 2:07 to snap a 9-0 Lady Leopard run.
Gainesville also sizzled from downtown right before halftime, knocking down 3 of 5 treys in the third quarter alone - two from Manuel and one from Smith.
The Lady Leopards will have Tuesday off before traveling to play state-ranked Krum next Friday.