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Unatego’s Kylie Mussaw is guarded by Delhi’s Natalie Vredenburgh during a game at Unatego on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Unatego won 27-26.

The first 31 minutes of Tuesday’s between the Unatego and Delhi girls won’t go down in the history books as some of the most exciting basketball ever played. But the two sides made up for it in the last minute as the Lady Bulldogs nearly pulled off an amazing comeback.

In the end, however, Unatego held on for a 27-26 victory at home that put the Spartans in the driver’s seat for a division title in the Midstate Athletic Conference.

“I guess perseverance would be the word,” Unatego coach Bob Zeh said when asked for his takeaway of the game. “We persevered and were able to hang in there. We had the same type of game last Friday night over at Oxford that came down the stretch. I don’t know what happens to us in the last minute of a game.”

Unatego led 27-20 with around a minute to play and looked like it was ready to walk out with a fairly comfortable victory. But Delhi’s Kiley Cheshire hit a three-pointer with 44 seconds left to cut the lead to four and then hit another three 11 seconds later after Unatego turned the ball over to make it a one-point game.

Delhi got the ball again with 17 seconds left when its defense took possession on a held ball. The Bulldogs got a couple of good looks in the final seconds but were unable to sink the basket that would’ve capped a remarkable turnaround.

Kylie Mussaw was Unatego’s leading scorer in the win with eight points while Maddie Wilsey scored seven and Bailey McCoy netted five. Natalie Vredenburgh led Delhi with a game-high 14 points, the only player in the game to finish in double-figures

A combination of great defense and poor shooting from both teams led to a lot of missed baskets and a lot of turnovers. After Unatego led 9-6 after the first quarter, it took until the 3:45 mark of the second quarter for either team to make a basket.

“We’re not a great offensive team, we know that,” Zeh said. “We’re not a great shooting team; tonight especially we weren’t. Todd [Bruce] does a great job. He’s a great coach. Delhi’s well-prepared and had a good gameplan: keep the game low-scoring, keep the [pace] down, and it came down to the last possession.”

After Unatego took a 14-8 lead into halftime, the Spartans came out with better ball movement in the second half, even if those passes didn’t always lead to points. Delhi, meanwhile, was getting open looks but was ice-cold shooting from the field all game.

One of the key moments in the contest came early in the fourth quarter when Mussaw and McCoy teamed up for two give-and-go baskets off of steals that came in rapid succession and gave Unatego a 24-16 lead.

“We had two steals out front,” Zeh said of the sequence, adding, “Our defense is the key to our winning and losing. We have to play defense.

“We can’t give up open shots. Usually we don’t. But Bailey and Kylie had two big steals back-to-back that opened it up from four to eight.”

While it wasn’t the prettiest outing of the season, Zeh knows these are the types of games teams need to win to have success when it matters most.

“I’m proud of how hard our kids play on defense,” he said. “Offensively, we have a lot of work to do. You can get them all in the right position but you can’t make the shots. They have to make the shots.”

Unatego (12-3 overall, 8-2 MAC) will hit the road to face Ithaca on Thursday. Delhi (9-5 overall, 6-4 MAC) will also be on the road Thursday when it visits Walton.

Unatego 27, Delhi 26

U … 9 5 6 7 — 27

DA … 6 2 8 10 — 26

U: Bailey McCoy 2 0-0 5, Harly Birdsall 1 0-0 3, Madisyn Birdsall 0 0-0 0, Kylie Mussaw 4 0-0 8, Maddie Wilsey 3 1-1 7, Kaitlyn Henn 0 0-0 0, Gracie Tilt 0 0-0 0, Lizzy Craft 2 0-0 4. Totals: 12 1-1 27

DA: Julia Baxter 0 0-2 0, Natalie Vredenburgh 4 6-8 14, Erin Coppersmith 0 0-0 0, Kiley Cheshire 2 0-0 6, Hannah Ransford 0 0-0 0, Victoria Verspoor 0 0-0 0, El Wagner 0 0-0 0, Alyssa Gioffe 0 2-4 2, Vidya Samudrala 2 0-0 4, Riley Haney 0 0-0 0. Totals: 8 8-14 26

Three-point baskets: U 2 (McCoy, H. Birdsall); DA 2 (Cheshire 2)

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