MADISON TOWNSHIP -- In a game that featured plenty of youngsters, it was the presence of one senior for Madison and the absence of one for Mansfield Senior that made the difference Thursday night.
Senior Brooklynn Arnold scored Madison's final four points on a baseline jumpshot and two free throws in the last 36 seconds to break a tie and lift the Rams to a 57-53 win in an Ohio Cardinal Conference girls' game.
Madison coach Brian Davis had confidence when Arnold (18 points, seven rebounds, five assists) had the ball in her hands late in the game.
"She was a first-team all-conference player (last year) and if you want anyone shooting those free throws late, it's her," Davis said.
Arnold, who had missed only two other free throw attempts earlier in the game, admitted to nervousness when she went to the line with six seconds left and her team clinging to a two-point lead.
"I have been getting on myself about my free throws because I haven't been making them in practice either. But I calmed myself down and told myself I have made them in clutch situations before, so I was good," Arnold said.
"The last couple of years, we have had a very young team and when adversity comes, we start freaking out. I tried to use my experience and take the game in my own hands and try to get the younger girls to calm down a little bit," Arnold said.
DIFFERENCE MAKER: The frantic finish came after the Rams (2-1, 1-0) built a 15-point third-quarter lead when Tygers' senior guard Talayzha Catchings went to the bench with muscle tightness.
Her departure helped Madison go on a 12-3 run that gave the Rams a 37-22 edge with 4:06 left in in the period.
Catchings was also a first-team All-OCC pick a year ago, averaging almost 16 points per game, and the Rams took advantage of her absence.
"She is our engine," said Mansfield Senior coach JR Wilson, in his first year guiding the Tygers after leaving the same spot at Mansfield Christian. "We run a lot of things through her because she sees the floor so well. She is our leader on the court and when she was out, we noticed."
Catchings finished with 11 points and five rebounds. But it was 5-10 junior forward JayJahnae Feagin who helped the Tygers (0-3, 0-1) nearly spring the upset win.
Feagin led all scorers with 25 points, including six triples, pulling down 10 rebounds for the Tygers, who took a 42-41 lead with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter and 53-52 with 1:33 remaining.
"She has been working on her game so much and this summer you really saw an improvement from her," Wilson said. "I am very happy for her. We always want to win, but when you see kids improving because of the work they put in during the off-season, it's awesome."
Feagin certainly caught the eye of Davis, who had a wry smile and a laugh outside the locker room when asked about the performance and the 15-point lead that nearly turned into a loss.
"We just had a little talk about that. I think the energy ... we got up and got a little relaxed. That's really all there is to it. We slowed the game down too much instead of doing what we do best which is pressuring the ball and getting up and down the floor," Davis said.
And the long-range sniping of Feagin, who only missed one of seven three-point attempts.
"No, I wasn't expecting that," he said. "I know she will shoot the ball ... she's a good shooter," Davis said.
A FRESH START: Despite the 0-3 start, Wilson said he is happy with the team's improvement. Mansfield Senior won just five of 23 games last season.
"I am very pleased with the way the girls battled back and we are at a point where we are learning how to get over the hump," he said. "We are learning how to deal with the moments when adversity hits. I felt the girls reacted in a better way tonight than they used to.
"I keep telling the girls we need to have amnesia. When we make a bad play, we need to just forget about it and get on to the next play," Wilson said.
Davis said he sees a difference in his team's veteran leadership.
"We missed a couple of free throws, but the girls didn't panic. (The Tygers) made their run and it's just hard to get the momentum back sometimes," Davis said.
STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: Sophomore Chesney Davis was also in double figures for Madison, finishing with 14 points and four blocked shots.
Senior guard Na'Kyra Petty was the third member of the Tygers in double figures, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.
UP NEXT: Madison is at Tiffin Columbian on Tuesday in a non-league game. Mansfield Senior hosts Ashland on Thursday in an OCC game.