Kortnei Johnson lifts the Lady Gladiators to a dramatic 64-62 win over Frost

Image: Senior Lady Gladiator Kortnei Johnson(3) drives the length of the court in four seconds flat to put in the game-winning shot over the Frost Lady Polar Bears at home in Italy Coliseum. The ball circled the rim dramatically before falling thru to secure a 64-62 district win for the Lady Gladiators who need one more win over Dallas Gateway this coming Tuesday to become undefeated district champions. Johnson finished with 19-points.

Senior Lady Gladiator Kortnei Johnson(3) drives the length of the court in four seconds flat to put in the game-winning shot over the Frost Lady Polar Bears at home in Italy Coliseum. The ball circled the rim dramatically before falling thru to secure a 64-62 district win for the Lady Gladiators who need one more win over Dallas Gateway this coming Tuesday to become undefeated district champions. Johnson finished with 19-points. (Barry Byers)

Italy — Coming off a runaway win over Itasca, the Lady Gladiators faced a much tougher opponent on Tuesday in a district rematch against Frost. Italy handled Frost earlier in district play by controlling the game to win by double digits. However, everybody has Italy circled on their calendars this season and the Lady Polar Bears arrived at the Coliseum ready to rumble.

Neither side realized they were about to both compete in one of the most exciting and what is sure to be one of the most memorable games to have ever been played inside Italy Coliseum.

Frost wins the tip and then soon begins the game with a three-point bomb. Lady Gladiator freshman Emmy Cunningham answers with a three-pointer from the corner to tie. Italy eventually passes Frost on the scoreboard and continues to build a 17-12 advantage.

Another Cunningham three-pointer pushes Italy to a 20-13 lead, the matchup looked as though it would be a repeat of Italy’s dominance displayed in the first meeting between the tow schools. Just for a moment.

Suddenly, Frost mounts a tremendous first-half comeback. After getting into the bonus, the Lady Polar Bears knock down free-throw after free-throw to retake the lead 25-24.

Senior shooter Kortnei Johnson scores quick to put Italy back on top 26-25 but Frost remains a thorn in the side of Italy’s armor from the foul line and manages a 31-28 lead going into halftime.

Getting into foul trouble early for Italy was Cunningham who was limited in the third-period.

A bank shot by power center Cory Chance reties the game 31-31 after she swishes in the and-1. A Frost three-ball gives the Lady Polar Bears a 34-31 advantage.

Senior guard K’Breona Davis drills a jumper from the right wing to pull Italy within 1-point, 34-33, at the 5:53 mark in the third. Frost keeps control of the game to go up 41-33 but Italy goes on a mini run with a lay in by Chance and a free-throw by Johnson makes the score 41-36. Frost scores a bucket but sophomore Janae Robertson adds a free-throw to keep Italy close, 43-37, with 2:41 left in the third.

Chance drops in a pair of free-throws with 1:05 on the clock but Frost is still in front, 43-39. Frost scores again but an assist from Robertson, who finds Chance posted up inside, results in a bucket for the Lady Gladiators, 45-41. Frost flurries in the final minute to take a commanding 49-41 lead into the fourth-period.

Cunningham, who had taken a seat in third after being charged with her fourth foul, is back on the court to start the fourth-period. Cunningham’s return gives Italy a spark as the Lady Gladiators up their defensive intensity. Unfortunately, Cunningham fouls out with 7:00 remaining

Freshman guard Brycelen Richards takes over for Cunningham and holds her own during the remainder of the battle. A steal and a layup by teammate Taleyia Wilson makes the score 52-47. Frost still leads but it was a big play by Wilson. A made free-throw by Frost makes it 53-47 and then both sides trade baskets to make the score 55-49.

Lady Gladiator head coach made a strategic move down the stretch to have 5’,11" Robertson cover Frost sharp shooter Jae Moore and Robertson stuck to Moore wherever she went. Moore had 13-points in the first-half, including 3 three-pointers but only managed 5-points in the third, with 1 three-pointer and a basket, and just 1 free-throw in the fourth for 6 only second-half points. Kudos to Robertson for shutting the Frost senior down!

Sensing she needs to take over the game, Johnson steals, dribbles down and splits two Frost defenders for an underhanded make to tighten the score, 55-51. Frost senses what Johnson is sensing and immediately calls a timeout with 3:53 to go.

A Frost layup puts the Lady Polar Bears up 57-51. Lady Gladiator head coach Melissa Fullmer implores her squad to look for Chance on the block. Responding to Coach Fullmers demands, Chance banks in another basket to make the score 57-53. Italy again takes a chance with Chance who comes thru with a pair of clutch free-throws to make the score 57-55 with 2:54 ticking down.

Robertson is fouled after a defensive rebound and Coach Fullmer pumps her first and stomps her heels as Italy’s bench rises and cheers along with their fans. Robertson drops in the front end of a 1-and-1 to pull Italy within 1-point, 57-56 , with 2:44 showing.

Robertson then steals the ball away from a Frost ball handler but her layup at the other end refuses to drop and the arial follow by Johnson skims off. A jumper by frost does drop, however, and the Lady Polar Bears boost their advantage back to three-points, 59-56, with 2:06 to play. Previously injured Tara Wallis, a senior, makes a brief entry into the game in time to help to create a turnover before leaving with a sore hip.

Frost is up 61-56 when a flury at the offensive end for Italy results in Johnson grabbing her own rebound off a miss. Johnson then passes to Chance who lays it in to make the score 61-58 with 0:50 ticking and ticking.

A steal by Johnson results in a made layup plus an and-1 opportunity. Johnson sinks the bonus shot to tie the game 61-61 at the 0:38 mark of the fourth.

A defensive rebound by Italy and a shot by Chance draws a shooting foul sending Chance to the line with 0:08 remaining. Chance knocks down her first attempt to put Italy up 62-61 forcing Frost to call another timeout. A spontaneous chant begins to echo throughout the Coliseum , “Let’s go Italy! Let’s go Italy! Let’s go Italy!”

After the timeout, Chance misses her second attempt from the line and, mistakingly, Italy fouls a Lady Polar Bear during a scrum for the rebound.

With 0:05 on the clock, Frost makes the first of a 1-and-1 to tie the game 62-62. The second shot deflects off the rim into the outstretched hands of Johnson. Johnson, with four-seconds counting down, blurred down the court with Italy’s fans cheering her forward. With a Frost defender waiting under the hoop hoping to draw a charging call, and the clock winding down, 3, then 2, Johnson decided to pull up for the final attempt about midway into the lane.

And 1. The buzzer blares but the fate of the game is still in doubt as the ball makes a full revolution around the rim, suspends momentarily, and then rolls down and in for a Lady Gladiator 64-62 win! All at once, Gladiator Nation erupts from the bleachers with a thunderous roar, as loud as I have ever heard inside the dome. Italy’s bench, both players and coaches, leap into the air and then chase down Johnson at the far end of the floor for a group hug. The Gladiators celebrated with the Lady Gladiators at mid court and even Coach Fullmer gets in on that action.

Along with Johnson’s heroic shot, notable efforts were turned in by Lillie Perry, who recorded a blocked shot and helped pass the ball inside to Chance, and by T’Keyah Pace who was subbed in throughout the game for her defensive pressure. Chance, who twisted her ankle in warmups, missed the start of the game but showed guts by playing hard and putting in 16-points.

The clutch shot by Johnson, who finished tied with Moore for the game-high in scoring with 19-points, keeps Italy unbeaten in district play at 5-0 as they sweep Frost in both district match ups. The Frost team deserves a pat on the back for a hard fought effort. With a win over Dallas Gateway next Tuesday, the Lady Gladiators would claim the district championship outright.

Lady Gladiators Scoring and Game Roster:

  • Kortnei Johnson – 19
  • Cory Chance – 16
  • Emmy Cunningham – 16 (Including 4 three-pointers)
  • Janae Robertson – 6
  • K’Breona Davis – 2
  • Taleyia Wilson – 2
  • Brycelen Richards – 1
  • Lillie Perry
  • Annie Perry
  • Tara Wallis
  • T’Keyah Pace
  • Vanessa Cantu
  • Lizzie Garcia
  • Brooke DeBorde

Lady Gladiator Coaching Staff:

  • Melissa Fullmer (Head coach)
  • Tina Richards
  • Nicole Tindol (Pre-game hand shaker)

Lady Polar Bears Scoring and Game Roster:

  • Jae Moore – 19
  • Sheila Ramos
  • Kaycee Bowling – 8
  • Kenrah Kennedy – 2
  • Heather Montgomery – 10
  • Madison Revill – 12
  • Alexas Montgomery
  • Karlie Scott – 11
  • Amy Melendez

Go Lady Gladiators!