January 24, 2014 Updated: January 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm
Harrison girls' basketball coach Ardie McInelly has been coaching for a long time, yet even she had never experienced what happened Friday night.
McInelly's Panthers finished their 49-43 win over Coronado with four players on the court. Yes, you read that right.
"This is the first time in my career that I've had to play with four kids," said McInelly, who was the women's coach at Air Force for nine seasons. "I'm very proud of our players for the way they stepped up and battled and showed a lot of character."
Harrison only suited six players for the game after their seventh suffered a concussion in practice on Thursday. Although they only had one substitute against Coronado's full roster, the Panthers made up for what they lacked in bodies with effort and clutch baskets.
DeAijah Paulk fouled out with 2:59 left in the fourth quarter after scoring 10 points, with her team leading 44-38. The remaining five Panthers toughed it out for the final three minutes before Jazsmin Paulk fouled out with seconds remaining.
"Since we usually only have six or seven players, our strategy is to try not to foul and play defense with our feet," said Harrison's Ashley Register, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and rarely got a breather. "But having so few of us makes our chemistry stronger because we play so many minutes together. This is a big win for us in the standings."
The Panthers move to 7-8 overall and 2-2 in the 4A Colorado Springs Metro League standings, which puts them in a tie for third place. Along with the gutty performances by the six players, a huge portion of the win went to the veteran coach.
McInelly was the maestro for a beautifully executed game of musical chairs, which allowed Harrison to grind out the win and keep enough gas in the tank - and players on the court - to get the job done.
Harrison also got a big game from TreAnna Mulkin, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Coronado, however, was left looking for answers as to how it lost to a team with virtually no depth. The first spot the Cougars (6-9, 2-3) should look is the free-throw line, where they were 8-for-22.
"Free throws are something we've been working on a lot, but I think it's a mental thing at this point," Coronado coach Lavon Jackson said. "The plan was to try to run a lot and get Harrison tired and into foul trouble, but Ardie really did a great job of slowing the game down. We let this one slip away, and this will be a hard loss to swallow."
The majority of Coronado's offensive production came from senior captain Taryn Frazier, who had 19 points, 15 rebounds and six steals. The only real support Frazier got was eight points from Tatiana Clanton.
"We slacked off in the third quarter and then ran out of time in the fourth," Frazier said. "We looked over at their bench and thought we would have this game because they would get tired, but they slowed the game down and we underestimated them, which is what hurt us."