By BRETT MARSHALL
LEOTI — In his 12 seasons as the girls basketball coach at Syracuse, Mark Akers has seen just about everything when it comes to winning and losing.
Thursday night may have been another new angle as the Lady Bulldogs squeaked out a 51-48 victory over Meade in the Class 2A sub-state semifinal.
The victory pushes Syracuse (13-9) into Saturday night's 6 p.m. championship game against top-seeded Spearville, a 56-47 survivor over Stanton County, with a berth in the state tournament in Manhattan on the line.
Turnovers did play a big role for both teams as each squandered possessions. Syracuse turned it over 23 times and Meade 21. The Bulldogs took advantage of a solid shooting night in which they finished 16-of-33 (48.4 percent).
"We did some nice stuff at times, but then we'd have turnovers in bunches," Akers said. "Then we got rattled by their press and we hurried things up too much."
The early start was sparked by 5-foot-9 senior forward Kylee Hedberg who scored 16 of her game-high 28 points in the first half, including 10 in the first quarter as the Bulldogs jumped out to take a 12-2 lead after one quarter. That advantage would shrink to four, 17-13, midway through the second period before Syracuse reeled off 10 unanswered points and finished with a 27-15 halftime lead.
"We had a lot of good things planned that worked early, but we got a bit careless I thought in the second half," Akers said.
Meade came out in the second half and battled back behind the effort of sophomore guard Tatum Hansen. She drained three 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the third quarter to close the deficit to 29-28. Syracuse responded with its own run by outscoring Meade 10-2 over the final 4:24 of the quarter to go up by nine heading to the final eight minutes.
"From what we knew, Meade was not supposed to be great shooters from the outside," Akers said. "But when their one player started making them from everywhere, we had to extend our defense out more and then that opened up the middle more for them."
Every Meade (7-15) rally in the fourth was answered by one from Syracuse and with 1:44 remaining, the Bulldogs were still comfortably in front, 48-38. But Meade had one more charge left and with Kyre Larrabee hitting one basket and Hansen and Jada Hardaway knocking down a pair of treys, the Buffs closed the gap to 50-46 with 13 seconds showing on the clock.
Syracuse senior Dakota Gordanier knocked down two free throws just before Hardaway's three-pointer, then Syracuse's Shanelle Sharp made the first of two free throws to make it a 51-46 contest. Hansen would get the last bucket of the game with three seconds showing to pull the Buffs to within three.
"Overall, I thought we had a lot of steals, but we need to do better on rebounding (and cutting down our turnovers," Akers said.
Hedberg was the lone double-figure scorer for Syracuse while Hansen also was the only Meade player to reach double figures as she finished with 20, including four 3-pointers, all in the second half.
"Their outside shooting caused us to get our defense spread out too much and that created problems," Akers said.
Fouls and foul-shooting were pivotal. Meade was whistled for 26 fouls compared to just 11 for Syracuse. The Bulldogs cashed in 18-of-31 charity shots, while Meade was just 4-of-12.
"We'll have to be a lot better on Saturday if we want to make it to Manhattan," Akers said. "But for now, it's a win and we're playing again."
Syracuse 51, Meade 48
MEADE (7-15) — Thompson 1-2 0-0 2 Marceau 2-10 0-2 5, Hansen 8-18 0-1 20, Larraabee 2-6 0-0 4, Reimer 0-4 1-2 1, Hardaway 1-4 0-0 3, Cordes 0-6 0-0 0, DeVine 2-8 2-4 6, Crain 0-0 0-0 0, Harshberger 1-2 0-0 2, Friesen 2-4 1-3 5. Totals 19-64 4-12 48.
SYRACUSE (13-9) — Rash 4-7 0-5 8, Sharp 2-5 4-7 9, Gordanier 0-2 2-2 2, Nairn 0-0 2-2 2, Graber 0-0 0-0 0, Hedberg 10-18 8-13 28, Darnell 0-1 2-2 2, Gerard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-33 18-31 51.
Meade 3 12 15 18 -- 48
Syracuse 12 15 12 12 -- 51
3-point goals — Meade 6-14 (Marceau 1-3, Hansen 4-7, Larrabee 0-1, Hardaway 1-2, Cordes 0-1), Syracuse 1-5 (Rash 0-2, Sharp 1-2, Hedberg 0-1). Rebounds — Meade 38 (Hansen 7, DeVine 7), Syracuse 25 (Hedberg 10). Turnovers — Meade 21, Syracuse 23. Fouls — Meade 26, Syracuse 11. Fouled out — Meade (Cordes).