Visiting Webb City cut into a seven-point lead in the final two minutes and made things interesting at the end, but on senior night at Carthage High School, the Tigers held on for a 50-47 victory Wednesday.
Carthage led 47-40 with 1:49 left to play after junior Quincy Charleston made a free throw, but the Tigers wouldn’t score again for more than a minute.
Webb City, meanwhile, made it a three-point game when Mikaela Burgess made two free throws with 55 seconds remaining. The Cardinals then took possession on a jump ball, and pulled within 47-45 after Gabbie Gannaway made a free throw with 49 seconds on the clock.
Carthage head coach Jim Moore called a timeout at the 39-second mark, and later said he reminded his team they were still in the lead.
“We’ve got to play like it and play with confidence,” Moore said. “I just reminded them we need to step to the pass, take care of the basketball and when we get an opportunity to attack we’ll take it, but we’re not going to force anything.”
The talk worked, and seven seconds later senior Kaylee Morgan dished to Charleston for an easy layup.
“We come out of the timeout and throw the ball in, we catch them trying to double team us and Kaylee Morgan has a nice little dish to Quincy,” Moore said. “She scores and makes it a four-point game. That was a huge play.”
Morgan added a free throw with 21 seconds left in the game to give the Tigers a five-point cushion, but Gannaway scored with 14 seconds left to pull the Cardinals within three. Morgan was fouled at the four-second mark, but missed the free throws.
It didn’t matter, though, as Webb City failed to get a clean shot off at the buzzer, capping a whirlwind fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right world,” Moore said of how he felt in the waning moments. “We’ve got to do a better job taking care of the basketball late. This is the second game in a row we didn’t do that. Free throws are huge and we know that. You’ve got to step up to the line with confidence and knock them down. I’ve got confidence in every one of them that they can go up and knock two free throws down. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just a matter of getting up there, wanting the ball and finishing. I’ve seen how we played all year and there have been very few times we’ve lost our poise. You’ve got to give Webb City credit for bouncing back.”
Carthage struggled at the free throw line for the second-straight home game, making nine of 25 shots. The Tigers were 5-of-12 at the line in the final quarter.
Webb City, meanwhile, scored 12 points on 20 free throws.
Carthage jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter, in large part due to the hot shooting of sophomore Vanessa Pawlak. She opened the game with a three pointer, scored a layup and then hit consecutive three’s to put Carthage up 15-5 with 3:20 left in the first. The Tigers led 17-7 after the first eight minutes.
Morgan connected on a three pointer to open the second quarter and put Carthage up by 13 points, but Webb City scored 10-straight points to pull within three.
Morgan scored with 4:52 left in the half to give Carthage a five-point lead, but Kambrey Cooper made a three for the Cardinals to cut the lead to two. The Tigers led 26-20 at the half.
A free throw by Morgan at the 4:34 mark in the fourth put Carthage on top 44-35, and two more free throws by the senior put Carthage ahead by eight at the 3:42 mark.
The victory is the ninth in 10 games for Carthage, which is now 19-6.
“We’ve been playing some good team ball,” Moore said. “I thought at times throughout the year, especially early, it wasn’t that we weren’t playing team ball, but we weren’t being patient enough and making the extra pass. We really have been working on becoming more of a team, working our offense, making that second pass, letting the offense come to us. Whenever we start doing that we’re getting better looks. Everybody is getting involved, and the confidence grows. Plus, our defense has gotten a lot better. We’re not giving up easy opportunities. Whenever you guard and you rebound, you give yourself a better chance.”
That team play was on display Wednesday night. The Tigers got points from seven players, including 14 from Morgan and 13 from Pawlak. Chloe’ Shepherd, a junior, added 11, Charleston finished with five, senior Hannah Blount scored three and sophomore Leigh Ann Craig and junior Emily Goeken had two points apiece.
Webb City was led by Gannaway and Burgess, with each scoring 14. Kaitlin Beason tallied eight, Cooper scored six and Megan Heman added five.
The players and fans started the process of saying goodbye to seniors Morgan and Blount, who were recognized before the game.
“It’s always a tough night because you get attached to these girls,” Moore said. “They put so much into the game and into the program. Kaylee and Hannah both mean a lot to this program. Their work ethic is very good. They expect to win. That rubs off on the other girls, and so whenever they come to practice everyday ready to work, so do the other girls. They mean a ton to this program and they’re going to be greatly missed. Hopefully we’ve still got a lot of basketball left with them.”
Carthage plays at Ozark tonight.