SPRINGFIELD — Purcell Marian head girls basketball coach Jamar Mosley knew exactly how many days it had been.
Exactly 361 days ago, Purcell Marian lost to Anna, 40-39, in the Division III regional championship game at Springfield High School.
So when the two programs met Wednesday at the same venue in the regional opener, revenge was a crucial motivator for the Greater Catholic League-Coed champions.
"We know how we lost it last year," Mosley said. "We talked about 361. That's how many days it had been since we gave Anna the game last year. It'll be a year on Saturday since we lost that basketball game. Just to see their faces in the locker room and see them celebrate this victory tonight means everything to me."
Purcell Marian got its revenge, holding off a late Anna comeback for a 49-44 victory that sends the Lady Cavaliers to the regional championship game for the third consecutive season.
"The buy-in these girls have given me this year has just been outstanding," Mosley said.
Last season, a 3-for-15 performance at the free-throw line was Purcell Marian's downfall in a one-point loss to the Rockets. Charity stripe success was a vocal point of practices all season and it paid off Wednesday as Purcell Marian sank seven freebies in the final two minutes to secure a Saturday return to Springfield.
"Every practice we work on free throws," senior Kara King said. "We have to make 10 in a row every practice or we run."
Early on, it appeared Purcell Marian would waltz to another regional final. King hit a 3-pointer on the game's opening possession to give the Cavaliers a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the night. The senior would sink four triples and finish with a team-high 15 points.
"Kara King has been phenomenal," Mosley said. "Last week against Carlisle, she didn't play the minutes she used to because she rolled her ankle at practice. For her to be there mentally and be a great teammate, she's just a player that any program, high school or college, would love to have. Kara has been nothing but a blessing for our program."
King added: "It's just huge. We had to beat them (Anna). In the locker room, we were talking about 361 days and we used that as our motivation to come out and win."
Causing complete chaos on defense has been a staple of Purcell Marian's defense during Mosley's tenure. It was on full display Wednesday as the Cavaliers' stifling full-court press and hard-nosed man-to-man attack suffocated and pestered an Anna attack that struggled to find open looks.
"I was pleased with our defense," Mosley said. "I told them that's what it would take to win the basketball game. Defense has been a foundation of our program. For us to come out and play the way we did against a very well-coached Anna team — all the credit goes to the girls."
When the Rockets did pierce the Purcell Marian defense, waiting for them was 6-foot-2 center Janay Rose, who finished with six blocks. Rose blocked an Anna floater late in the second quarter, then converted a bunny on the other end before the buzzer to give Purcell Marian a 12-point lead at the intermission. That lead would hit its peak at 32-17 with 6:01 left in the third when King pounced on an offensive rebound and banked home an easy lay-in.
As it's been all season, Purcell Marian's scoring was balanced. Outside of King's 15, Jayda Mosley had eight, Rose finished with seven, Jariah McCrory and Leah Smith had five each and point guard McKenna Haugabook tallied seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter.
Anna trailed by 10 going into the final stanza, but mounted a last-ditch comeback behind point guard Ella Doseck. The senior had a game-high 21 points. Her fourth 3-point play of the night with 4:01 remaining in regulation spearheaded a 12-1 Rockets run that diminished the Purcell Marian lead to as little as three at 42-39 with 2:10 left.
This time, though, Purcell Marian capitalized at the free-throw line. Haugabook went 5-for-7 down the stretch and Smith added a pair to seal it.
"I said, 'McKenna (Haugabook), everyone thinks the ball is going to Kara King. We're riding on your back,'" Mosley said. "At the end of every practice, who is the first person I put on the line? McKenna. She stepped up to the line and made some huge free throws to put the game away."
Purcell Marian will head back to Springfield Saturday afternoon to face Worthington Christian, who pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Waynesville by a dozen in the other regional semifinal affair Wednesday evening.
According to Mosley, the celebration will be short-lived. The breakdown of Worthington Christian was already discussed in the locker room.
"We celebrated in the locker room and then went over the scouting report right way," Mosley explained. "It was a quick celebration. Granted, we're gonna do a little more, but the scouting report has already been addressed."
Purcell Marian 49, Anna 44
Purcell Marian (20-3): King 5 1 15, Haugabook 2 5 9, Smith 1 2 5, McCrory 2 0 5, Rose 3 1 7, Mosley 3 0 8. Totals: 16 9 49.
Anna (18-8): Doseck 5 11 21, Reaman 0 4 4, Brewer 2 0 6, Landis 3 3 9, Reiss 1 0 2, Poeppelman 0 1 1, Wolters 0 1 1. Totals: 11 20 44.
Halftime: PM 27-16. 3-pointers: PM 8 (King 4, Mosley 2, Smith, McCrory), A 2 (Brewer 2).