MONROE —Megan Brown hadn’t shot a free throw all night. After missing the first of three throws with 0.6 seconds remaining, the Salmen junior calmly made her two remaining shots to give her team its first girls basketball state title since 1997.
“I definitely had to take a few deep breaths and talk to myself and just be positive in knowing I can do this,” she said. “I’ve done it a million times practicing.”
Brown’s free throws were just enough to give Salmen a 40-39 come-from-behind win over St. Thomas More in the 4A girls game that opened the Friday night session at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm Top 28 Tournament.
The victory at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum avenged a loss to the Cougars in 2012 title game. STM’s Courtney Chain had given her team a 39-38 lead by scoring on a layup with 6.2 seconds left.
Salmen threw the ball to near midcourt and called timeout. The ball went out of bounds with 1.8 remaining and was in-bounded to Megan Brown, who tried a 3-pointer. A foul was called on STM’s Jodi Quinn as the clock expired, setting up the final free throws.
Kalani Brown, who finished with 12 points and 17 rebounds, was voted the game’s Outstanding Player after the storybook ending for Salmen (30-3), which got a second chance last week when the LHSAA ruled Vandebilt Catholic had used an ineligible player in its quarterfinal win over the Spartans.
Hayley Pinchon added 11 points and Megan Brown had eight points and 10 rebounds. Allison Derise led St. Thomas More (30-6) with 12 points, while Quinn added 10.
“It was definitely a foul, and the ref had the guts to call it,” Salmen coach Kevin Anderson said. “Megan went up for a 3-point shot. She missed that first (free throw) and came back and knocked the next two down.”
STM coach Stephen Strojny disputed the call.
“I thought we played well enough to win tonight,” Strojny said. “I’m still kind of in shock at how it ended. It’s a shame. You hope the game would end in the hands of the players — not other guys on the court. I don’t want to say it was taken from us. We didn’t play perfect. The last thing I expected was for it to end the way it did.”
Christy Ducre and Megan Brown scored quick baskets to give Salmen a 4-0 just over a minute into the game. Derise and Payton Walker each hit a 3-pointer to give St. Thomas More the lead again.
Salmen tied the score at 6-6 on a jumper by Hayley Pinchon at the 3:59 mark. STM outscored the Spartans 7-1 of the way. Derise’s second 3-pointer helped the Cougars take a 13-7 lead into the second quarter.
A three-minute scoring drought by Salmen allowed STM to extend its lead to as much as 11 points. Kalani Brown’s basket with 1:06 left cut the gap to 23-14 at halftime.
The second half started with an 8-2 run by Salmen. Payton Walker’s 3-pointer at the 4:46 mark in the third quarter snapped the run and gave the Cougars a 28-22 lead.
Before the final free throws, the shot of the game came at the end of the third quarter. Salmen’s Tiara Warren hit a 55-foot heave at the buzzer, getting the Spartans within five at 33-28 and shifting momentum.
Baskets by Macy DeGruy and Kalani Brown got Salmen within two at 34-32 with 6:18 to go in the game. The Spartans took the lead at 36-35 after back-to-back baskets by Kalani Brown with 4:11 remaining.
The teams traded the lead three more times before Megan Brown’s free throws.