INA, ILL. – With leading scorer and playmaker Maya Smith at the end of the bench on crutches, the Mount Carmel Middle School Junior Lady Aces had to adjust and learn to play without her.
Unfortunately, that bit of on-the-job training had to come in the third-place game of the SIJHSAA Class L state tournament at Rend Lake College.
Learn, the Lady Aces did well. Adjust they did, too. But by the time they got into a newfound rhythm, Centralia had built a commanding lead. The Tigerettes bolted to an 18-3 lead at the end of the first period, and never looked back in a 59-41 triumph.
MCMS thus finished fourth in the final standings, concluding the season with a record of 21-2.
The Junior Lady Aces did not hit a field goal until early in the second quarter, getting only three Rylie Webb free throws in the opening seven-minute frame. Meanwhile, Centralia’s Amiyah Smith scored 11 of her game-high 27 points in the first period to ensure a quick getaway.
Even after a virtually even second period between the two teams, Mount Carmel still faced a daunting task, trailing 31-15 at halftime. Haley Wright came up big in the third period, scoring all seven MCMS points, but Centralia countered with Natalie Edson, who finished second to Smith in scoring with 15 points.
Wright led the Junior Lady Aces with 12 points, followed by Webb with 11. Eighth-grader Taylor Roosevelt finished her MCMS career with a fourth-quarter flourish, finishing with five points. Allie McPherson and McKenna Golden wound up with four points each, while seventh-grader Kenley Drone added three. Allie Thread finished with two points for Vernon Higginson’s team, which completed its second consecutive trip to the state tournament.
In the Class L championship game, Massac County, with a 6-foot-3 presence inside, won the title with a 32-25 defeat of Herrin. Herrin had beaten Mount Carmel in the semifinals, 44-30.