INA, Ill. – A couple of adjustments made way back in the second quarter may have been enough in the end for Mount Carmel, and for that reason the Junior Lady Aces are moving on at the SIJHSAA Class L state tournament.
MCMS took out defending state champion Highland, 39-31, on Saturday to advance to the semifinals, where the Junior Lady Aces will meet Herrin, a 35-30 winner over Belleville West, on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.
After a back-and-forth early portion of the game, Mount Carmel switched to a zone defense, and it was better able to control the game from that point forward. MCMS outscored Highland in the frame, 11-6, to take a 22-15 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“They stepped up, didn’t they?” said MCMS coach Vernon Higginson. “We talk all the time about the need to see what’s happening and make adjustments to take away what we can.”
Mount Carmel’s biggest lead was nine points, albeit briefly. But, Highland never quite went away.
Maya Smith led Mount Carmel in scoring with 13 points. But when she fouled out in the fourth quarter followed by a Highland basket to bring the Lady Bullpups within four, 35-31, MCMS fans gathered at Waugh Gymnasium on the campus of Rend Lake College were suddenly on edge.
Then, seventh-grader Taylor Singer went inside for a basket which not only put the Junior Lady Aces up 37-31 heading into the game’s final minute, but it calmed frayed nerves as well.
“Great basket,” is how Higginson characterized it. “We talk all the time about the girls looking for her, and about Taylor wanting it then finishing on the glass, which she did.”
Haley Wright iced the game late with two free throws for Mount Carmel (21-0), at the state tournament for the second straight year.
Singer finished with six points, along with Riley Webb and Wright. McKenna Golden, who scored Mount Carmel’s first points on a rebound basket, finished with five points. Allie McPherson added four for the winners.
Highland was led early by the inside play of center Madison Fenton, who scored four of the Lady Bullpups’ nine first-quarter points. In the second quarter, however, she was held scoreless after MCMS went to the zone. She finished the game with 12 after hitting two 3-point field goals in the second half.
Kristen Taylor and Delania Sigman both scored nine for Highland, which had only four players hit the scoring column.
Mount Carmel had to overcome both early and late foul trouble. In addition to Smith, the Junior Lady Aces had to sit starter Rylie Webb early after she picked up two first-quarter fouls.
That bit of adversity made the victory all the much sweeter, said Higginson.
“When you talk about losing Riley early in the game, and Maya at the end, and still fighting as a team and working. Those are two key components to our team. Our girls did a great job,” he said.
ACES ASIDES… Massac County, with a 6-foot-3 inside presence, and Centralia, are also in the Class L semifinals… Mount Carmel is assured of a game on Saturday, Jan. 28 as well, ether the third-place game at 9:30 a.m. or the state championship tilt at 11 a.m… McKenna Golden wears the same jersey number (No. 5) as her older brother, MCHS varsity player Blake Golden.