But in the end, the Warriors strengthened their grip on second place by handing Tabor an 89-84 loss.
Sterling—Led by red-hot shooting from Stacie Herman, Tabor shredded the Sterling defense at the outset. But after building an 11-2 lead on three consecutive scores by Brittany Roth, the Bluejays lost ground to the Warriors.
Hilary Stucky and Jacci Tinkel scored back-to-back 3-pointers 28 seconds apart, and Tabor counterpunched with 2-points by Jordan Crosson and Stephanie Silvas.
Then Katie Fast scored a 3-point play at 10:49, making it 21-11.
Sterling roared back with a 9-2 run. Tabor pushed the lead back to seven on back-to-back scores by Crosson and Joanna Pyle.
Britany Gasper cut the lead to 29-25 at the foul line, and Ashley Gasper made it 31-27 on free throws 59 seconds later.
With 1:03 remaining, Herman pushed the lead to seven with a 3-pointer, and hit another with 14 seconds left.
In between, Ashley Kraft scored a 2-pointer for Sterling. Racing up court after Herman’s third three of the half, Stucky closed the book on the sequence with a 3-point dagger that smoked of calculation rather than desperation.
Tabor led 37-32, but the shot was a sign of things to come.
The Bluejays led the entire second half until Kraft knotted the score at 63 with 6 seconds to go.
Pyle came within a hair of ending the game on a last-second 3-pointer from nearly the same spot as Stucky’s half-ender, but the game rolled into extra sessions.
Returning the favor, Tabor scored game-tying 3-pointers in both of the first two overtimes, with Kirsten Watson pulling the trigger on both shots.
The first came with 38 seconds left in the initial overtime, but neither team could break the 73-73 deadlock.
The second came with 20 seconds to go in the middle overtime. Tabor called a time out the instant Watson’s shot went through and set up a full-court press with a lineup composed of five guards. The play worked to perfection, forcing a bad pass with 11.4 seconds left.
The Bluejays then inbounded to Tasia Johnson and cleared the lane to isolate her against a single defender, who Johnson torched with a sublime shake-and-bake, stutter-step dribble-drive.
But as had been the pattern established against Tabor’s slashing drives, the Warrior help- defense closed fast and hard, knocking both the shot and the shooter to the floor while managing to avoid a whistle in the process.
Sterling outscored Tabor 10-5 in the decisive third overtime thanks in large part to four points on early baskets by Britany Gasper, who finished with 20 points and earned conference Player of the Week honors.
Kraft led all scorers with 28, nine of which came after the end of regulation.
Herman led Tabor with 22 points, including a 5-for-6 showing beyond the arc. Watson scored 16 and Brittany Roth had 13.
Bethel—Playing more like boa constictors than Bluejays, Tabor crushed the Threshers 67-50.
Joanna Pyle tallied 14 points and two assists during the first 13:47, including a 3-pointer that initiated a 13-3 run.
The run spanned the 4:49 after a shot clock problem caused a prolonged delay, and expanded Tabor’s lead to 11 points.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Pyle and Watson made it 22-11.
Tabor continued to deflate their opposition, outscoring Bethel 17-9 before the half ended.
Forcing 19 turnovers in the first half, the Bluejays led by 20 twice before intermission—at 35-15, and again at 37-17.
In applying the big defensive squeeze, the Bluejays had accumulated a disproportionate number of fouls on their guards and played less aggressively in the second half.
Bethel took advantage early in the frame, paring the lead down to 48-38 with 9:19 to go.
Stacie Herman then slammed the door with a 3-pointer that stopped Bethel’s longest run at 9-2 and cued a 7-0 Tabor run.
After that, the Tabor lead reached 19 twice—61-42 and 67-48—on layups by Roth and Crosson, respectively.
Herman led all scorers with 20 points and, with 38 minutes of action, logged by far the most time on the floor.
Goessel High School graduate Tara Goerzen scored 4 points for Bethel.
Coming—Tabor (5-3) plays Kansas Wesleyan (2-5) at 6 p.m. Thursday in Hillsboro and travels to Lindsborg for a 5 p.m. start Saturday at Bethany (3-4).