This may eventually be remembered as a magical season by the Lady Aces. But, there was nothing magical about Thursday night’s 55-51 victory over Mt. Vernon in the Big 8 Conference showdown at the Hilltop.No, this was a gritty, grueling, and at least early, a nervous affair.“It was a heckuva battle between two good teams,” said Lady Aces coach Tim Willis. “You just saw two of the better teams in the Big 8 have a knock-down, drag-out fight. It was a really good show for girls basketball in the area.”

In the end, the Lady Aces now breathe rarified air, alone atop the Big 8 Conference standings, perfect records (17-0, and 4-0 in the league) intact.
Tyra Buss scored 45 points, and needed every last one of them for the Aces to gain the win. She scored all but two of her team’s points in the second half.Despite that total, Mt. Vernon (9-3, 3-1) made life tough on the IU-bound junior. Wildcats guard Lauren Stemple managed to get the ball away from Buss on more than one occasion, as the visitors bounced around between a man, box-and-one and zone defense that kept the Aces guessing.
Mt. Carmel was at its’ best in the first half, piling up a 27-17 lead by halftime. But, no one figured the Aces would get off the hook that easy in a game of this magnitude. And, they didn’t.
The first game of the 2013 portion of the season resembled the last game of 2012, an overtime victory over Evansville Bosse in the championship game of the Toyota Teamwork Classic, in one rather unsettling aspect: the Lady Aces, after first-half domination, failed to close out the game, allowing for nervous moments at the close.
Against Mt. Vernon, the Aces may have been guilty of standing around a bit. “Yeah, we were,” Willis said. “We talked about that. But part of that reason is Mt. Vernon. They did a really nice job of taking away what we wanted to do.”
Willis pointed to one sequence near the end of the third quarter which provided Mt. Vernon with the final four points of the period to close to within 40-34.“The problem is we played for the last shot there and gave that up, which allowed them four points right in a row,” he said.
Reagan Keepes and Alex Rosignol made big plays in the final quarter to hold the Wildcats at bay. Keepes poked the ball away in the lane on defense, leading to a Buss layup at the other end. And, Rosignol turned a post-up into points to make it 46-38 early in the fourth period, and take the heat off Buss if only for a moment.
Still, Mt. Vernon (9-3, 3-1) scored the game’s final seven points to cut the margin to four, with an opportunity to slice the debt even further as time ran out.The Lady Aces are now just one league win away from earning a share of the crown, and two wins away from a clean sweep of the Big 8 field. The Aces host Vincennes Lincoln on Jan. 24, before playing at Boonville on Jan. 31.
A league crown would be the second in three years for Willis’ program, and the fourth since Mt. Carmel joined the Big 8 before the 2003-04 season. The Lady Aces are currently tied with the football Aces for the most Big 8 titles, won or shared, with three.

Mt. Carmel plays at Lawrenceville on Saturday, with the JV action beginning at 12 noon.
• Mt. Vernon won the JV contest, 44-25, even though the Aces were close at the end of the third period before being outscored 14-2 in the final frame. Brandi Metcalf led the Aces with 13 points.
NOTES: Buss moved up two more notches, into 11th, on the all-time IHSA girls scoring list, with 2,786 points. One of the players Buss moved past was Candace Parker, a former Ms. Basketball out of Naperville. Parker played college basketball at Tennessee, before heading to the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA, where she is a former league MVP and all-star. Parker has also won two gold medals as part of the U.S. team at the Olympics in Beijing and London.