The night started out as one of mutual celebration for both the and girls basketball teams in a . But the never-ending fight to promote heart health and awareness turned into a heart-stopping, instant classic of a ballgame, as the Wildcats and Pirates waged an epic battle that came down to the final whistle.
Host Hazelwood West, which delivered one of its finest efforts of the season, led almost from the start Friday, and even went up by as many as 12 points late in the fourth quarter.
But the visitors from Pattonville showed just how much heart they have as well, by rallying to outscore the Wildcats 21-8 in the final four minutes to pull off an incredible 71-70 comeback win against Hazelwood West.
“It was some kind of game,” said Pattonville head basketball coach Craig Gregory. “West was just on fire shooting the ball, and we had some foul trouble, so we couldn’t pressure them like we wanted to.
"But we were finally able to at the end, and they had some trouble with it," he said. "I’m just proud of how my girls played.”
Indeed he should be, as Pattonville, which is tied for first place in the Suburban North Conference standings with Hazelwood Central, seemed destined for its first league loss, as West standouts Mia Williams, Akaylah Mitchell, and Alexis Robinson continued to knock down shot after shot.
Mitchell led the Wildcats with 20 points, including a career-high four three-pointers. Robinson had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Williams, West’s spark plug emotional leader had 13 points and three three-pointers of her own.
The trio combined on an 11-2 run early in the fourth that helped West build its 62-50 lead.
Mitchell had a layup and an assist during the spurt, Robinson made a short basket and a free throw, and Williams hit two three-pointers – the second being a dagger that seemed to be enough at the time to put away the Pirates.
“I thought we had several girls play really well,” said West head coach Jim Fleming. “We were playing really well. And then right at that four-minute mark (of the fourth quarter), we lost both our point guards.
“That put us in the position of having to ask some of our girls to do things they don’t normally do," he said. "And we had some trouble, and they came back on us.”
Seniors Kailey Utley and Mikala McGhee led the comeback charge for the Pirates, scoring all but one basket during that final furious rally to re-take the lead.
Utley, who finished with 17 points, scored 14 of them in the fourth quarter, while McGhee had a game-high 29 points, including a driving layup and a pair of free throws with less than a minute left that gave Pattonville the lead for good.
Mitchell made two free throws of her own and splashed in a desperation three with four seconds left that pulled West within a point.
But Pattonville was able to inbound the ball to Utley, who dribbled out the final seconds to preserve the Pirate victory.
“It’s definitely a tough loss to take,” Fleming said. “We thought we were in good shape. But you have to credit (Pattonville) for doing what they did. I told our girls that we just have to learn from it.”
After the game, both coaches expressed the sentiment that the outcome of the game – thrilling as it was – paled in comparison to the importance of the message both programs wanted to convey to their schools and fans.
“When you think about what some of the heart patients and cancer patients have to go through, this was nothing,” Gregory said. “My wife is a cancer survivor. So this stuff really hits home for me.
"Just about everybody has somebody that was affected by this disease.”
And it’s because of that reality that the Hazelwood West and Pattonville athletic communities, in a partnership with the American Heart Association, wanted to do something special to raise awareness.
So throughout a night when all who attended, including both coaches and cheerleading squads, were asked to wear the color red, there were all kinds of reminders for heart health, and lessons for folks of all ages about things they could do to keep their hearts healthy.
There were droves of West High students who held raffles, and other contests that promoted heart health.
There were also numerous health care professionals, and even some West High teachers and staff on hand that taught anyone interested things like how to perform CPR, how to properly check a pulse, and how to improve eating habits to hopefully make their hearts last longer.
The Red-Out was almost a glorious night for Hazelwood West, which is now 15-7 this year. Instead, it became one of the great nights of the year for Pattonville, which is 19-3 and still in line for the coveted Suburban North title.
“Some people might see 15-7 and think that’s not good enough,” Fleming said. “But I just told the girls they should be proud of themselves tonight.
"They just proved that they can play with anybody," he said. "We just wish we had finished it off.”
Red To Pink
“What the kids did here tonight was great,” Gregory said. “We have our own ‘Pink-Out Night’ coming up (February 16) when we play Hazelwood Central. That’ll be our Senior Night too, so it’s going to be a big night for us.”