TREMONT — Battling a tough defense Thursday, the El Paso-Gridley High School girls basketball team locked down its opponent as well.
But only for a half.
Outscored 21-8 in the third quarter by Midwest Central and standout sophomore Mady Harper, the Titans saw their season end with a 48-27 loss in the title game of the Class 2A Tremont Regional.
"They put pressure on us early and got us out of what we wanted to do," said EPG coach Kyle Bobbitt, whose team ended at 21-7. "They kind of took the momentum there with some easy baskets and they rolled with it."
The Raiders (21-9) advanced to the Farmington Sectional and will face No. 8 seed Hamilton (15-17), which won its own regional with a 52-40 victory over Sherrard, in Monday's 7:30 p.m. second semifinal.
Harper, who already eclipsed 1,000 career points in the regional semifinal, scored 19 to go with eight rebounds and five steals. Her tenacity helped trigger Midwest's 11-2 surge to close the third quarter ahead 37-21.
"She's a good player, a very good player. Good players, great players come out in these types of games and they feed off it," said Bobbitt, who got a team-high nine points from senior Aubrey Staton.
"She's a sophomore but that doesn't matter; you can tell she's played the game and she has composure and poise the whole way through no matter what happens."
Raiders coach Eric Weaver marveled at Harper as well.
"I know (Harper) made some great skill plays but a lot of them were effort plays," he said. "Sometimes she looks like she's just in cruise control — that's our nickname for her — but she's a competitor and she has the heart of a champion and played like it tonight."
Weaver said he had a decision to make regarding Staton, who like Harper came in averaging more than 17 points per game.
"I agonized over it for a long time: do I put my best defender on her or do I let my best defender do what she's done all year: chase point guards and disrupt the offense? It was right before the game and I was like 'Forget it, she's too darn good. We've got to put (Megan) Teal on her," he said.
With Teal's primary defense backed up by switching man coverage, Staton didn't take a shot in a first quarter that left the Titans trailing 9-8. But after Midwest made the first bucket of the second, Staton answered with five straight points including a 3-pointer that put the EPG up 13-11.
"You could tell her heart. She did whatever and she had to fight with three or four people on her," said Bobbitt.
However that wound up being the Titans' last lead and their only basket in 10 tries from beyond the arc. EPG shot 11 for 38 overall (28.9 percent) and was outrebounded 34-18, including 11-2 on the offensive end.
"Especially in the third and fourth quarter we had some good looks that didn't go down, and we only had one shot and couldn't get the offensive rebound," said Bobbitt. "As you go through that, it takes some of the air out of you and it makes it tough."
After Harper scored on a driving layup, Teal made a free throw with 36.1 on the clock. She then stole the ball at midcourt and made a breakaway layup with 11.9 for a 16-13 halftime advantage.
Teal finished with 11 points while matching Harper with eight boards, five on offense.
EPG's Cheyenne Carr, who scored eight points, made the first basket of the second half. But two Teal buckets started a 9-0 Raiders run capped by a Harper trey.
Then with Midwest up 30-21, Harper scored five in the blink of an eye when she sank a floater, stole the inbounds pass and buried another trey.
"Their energy and spirit, they just kept it on and it grew and grew and we couldn't necessarily get the shots we wanted," said Bobbitt. "They're very, very athletic. They're very deep. They're a quality team, one of the better teams we've played this year."