The Tigers made five free throws in the final 26 seconds and survived a back-and-forth fourth quarter Saturday to beat Webb City 47-43 in the championship game of the Class 5, District 12 girls basketball tournament at Carthage High School.
Afterwards, Carthage head coach Jim Moore and his basketball team were feeling good.
“Absolutely,” Moore said. “That was a big win for our program against a very good team. We’ve had three battles with them this year and coach (Brad) Shorter does a very good job. We feel pretty fortunate to be advancing right now, but we’re excited about it.”
Carthage, the tournament host and top seed, trailed 36-30 late in the third quarter. Senior Hannah Blount made a three pointer with 1:04 left in the quarter to trim the deficit to three, and another three by sophomore Vanessa Pawlak tied the game at 36 with 6:58 remaining.
From there, the game was about as close as could be.
Mikaela Burgess put the Cardinals ahead 38-36, but 11 seconds later Carthage senior Kaylee Morgan tied it up again. Kaitlin Beason put Webb City up 40-38 with 4:34 left in the game, but Carthage tied it again on a basket by junior Chloe’ Shepherd with 2:50 left on the clock. The Cardinals took a 42-40 lead on a basket by Lacy Resa, and had a chance for more with a one-and-one free throw opportunity, but Webb City missed the first shot with 40 seconds left.
Carthage missed a free throw with 38 seconds remaining, and then Webb City missed another just a second later, but with 26 seconds to go, Shepherd scored and was fouled. Her free throw gave Carthage a 43-42 lead.
Webb City missed another free throw with 16 seconds to play, and Carthage missed one with 14 seconds left, but Morgan made one at the 12 second mark, then Shepherd made two with 9.8 seconds remaining for a four-point lead.
Webb City’s Megan Heman went to the foul line with 5.5 seconds to go and made the first, but the Cardinals were called for a lane violation and vacated the second shot. Then, with 4.3 seconds left, Blount made a free throw to make it a two-possession game, ending any chances of a Webb City comeback.
“Anybody could win it,” Moore said. “Either team. We talked about staying together as a team. We played like that all year, and we knew we had to count on each other to make big stops on the defensive end and make big plays on the offensive end. We came into the timeouts and just kept reminding each other that we’ve been here before and if we play with each other and we count on each other and play as a team, we’ll find a way to win. And we did.
“It’s hard to pick a star of the game because everybody did a great job, everybody made big plays,” he said. “It was definitely a team effort.”
Two of the biggest were Shepherd’s old fashioned three-point play with 26 seconds left, with put Carthage ahead by point, and Shepherd’s two free throws with 9.8 seconds remaining, increasing a two-point lead to four.
But they weren’t the only big plays. The three pointers by Blount and Pawlak and baskets by Morgan and Shepherd down the stretch kept Carthage neck and neck with the Cardinals.
“It’s a big game, a big-game atmosphere and emotions are high,” Moore said. “You’re wanting to make a play so bad for your team. Both teams were exerting a lot of energy. We were just fortunate to make a couple more plays than what they did.”
Webb City led 12-10 after a quarter, but Carthage took a 25-22 lead at the half.
Burgess poured in 20 points for Webb City, and senior Gabrielle Gannaway scored seven.
Carthage was led by Blount’s 16 points, and 12 by Shepherd. Pawlak scored nine, Morgan added eight and sophomore Leigh Ann Craig finished with two.
Now, it’s on to the playoffs for Carthage as one of 16 remaining teams in Class 5. Carthage will take on Ozark at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. Ozark beat Glendale 75-64 in the District 11 tournament Saturday.