Carthage saw a 14-point lead dwindle to two late in Friday's girls basketball game before the Tigers made just enough free throws to hang on for a 50-47 win against visiting Neosho.
And though the Carthage victory gave the Tigers their 16th win of the season and sent Neosho home with its 17th loss, the message was the same from both head coaches Friday night: with regular-season play out of the way and district tournaments slated to begin Monday, it's a whole new season for everybody.
"We're excited, we talked about it after the game," Carthage head coach Jim Moore said. "The real season starts now. Everybody in the state is 0-0 and whoever can win seven in a row is a state champion. Why not us? We're going to play one at a time obviously, but we're excited to go Monday against Monett."
Carthage earned the third seed in the Class 4, District 12 tournament and will face sixth-seed Monett at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Carthage High School. Neosho, meanwhile, will head to Parkview High School in Springfield where the Wildcats are seeded third in the Class 5, District 12 tournament. Neosho will be seeking some revenge against second-seed Willard at 7:30 p.m. Monday after the Tigers traveled to Neosho last week and won by four.
"I was just telling the girls we've got a good opportunity ahead of us to go up there and if we play well and play like we're supposed to we're capable of winning a basketball game," Neosho head coach Lance Robbins said. "At this point in the season, everybody is 0-0, if you win you play and if you lose you go home. We'll try our best to keep playing."
On Friday in Carthage, the Tigers turned a two-point halftime lead into a double-digit advantage after starting the second half on a 12-0 run.
Senior Chloe' Shepherd started the scoring with a bucket at the 7:14 mark of the third quarter, and freshman Maya Williams added four points and junior Vanessa Pawlak scored six to put Carthage up 36-22 with 2:20 left in the quarter.
Neosho freshman Brooke Stauffer broke the scoring drought with a free throw at the 2:05 mark and the Wildcats held the Tigers to just one point the rest of the quarter while cutting the Carthage lead to 37-29 when sophomore Chelsey Henry and senior Morgan Rathmann scored consecutive baskets in the final 24 seconds.
Williams scored on a nice assist by Pawlak to open the fourth quarter, putting the Tigers back up by 10 points, by Neosho continued to chisel away at the deficit.
Rathmann made two free throws, then Stauffer scored to cut it to six points.
Carthage junior Leigh Ann Craig stopped the bleeding with 5:15 left to play, and she was fouled while scoring. Her free throw made it 42-33.
Page 2 of 3 - Rathmann came up with a steal and scored on an easy lay up with 4:20 remaining in the game, but Shepherd made two free throws to keep the Tigers ahead by nine with less than four minutes to play.
Neosho sophomore Morgan Rogers scored at the 3:38 mark, then Henry scored 24 seconds later to bring the visitors to within five points.
After Pawlak made a free throw, sophomore Corea Lowery scored for the Wildcats, making it a four-point game. She made a steal on the ensuing Carthage possession, but couldn't convert two free throws with 2:17 on the clock.
Shepherd scored on another Pawlak assist, giving Carthage a little more breathing room before Rogers scored for Neosho to cut the lead to 47-43. The Tigers then missed three free throws in a 19-second span, and Rogers scored with 34 seconds left in the game to bring Neosho within 47-45.
Shepherd answered for Carthage, making one free throw with 31 seconds left and then two more at the 17-second mark.
Rathmann scored with six seconds on the clock and the Tigers missed two free throws with four seconds remaining, but Neosho couldn't get within shooting range before the buzzer sounded.
"I was really proud of the girls," Moore said. "We had some obstacles to overcome late, to put it nicely. We hung in there, we didn't get frustrated and Chloe' made a couple big free throws late. We missed a few free throws late, too, that could have sealed it, but we did what we had to do to get the win, that's the big thing."
"We've been kind of an up and down team all year long," Robbins said. "The third quarter really hurt us. They outscored us 13-7 in the third quarter. We had some silly turnovers, silly breakdowns on defense. They took advantage of it. We made a run there at the end of the game and had some opportunities, we just weren't able to cash in on them."
Carthage scored the final six points of a back-and-forth first quarter to take a 14-10 lead after eight minutes. Neosho led 17-14 with 6:19 left in the half, and the teams were briefly tied at 18 and 20. Carthage led 24-22 at the break after Rathmann made two free throws with 44 seconds remaining.
Free throw shooting plagued both teams most of the night, and the teams combined to shoot 55 free throws in the game. Carthage made 15-of-32 for the night, including 7-of-14 in the fourth quarter. Neosho made just seven shots in 23 free throw attempts, and the Wildcats shot 3-for-16 in the second half.
Williams led the Tigers with 11 points, and Pawlak added 10. Craig scored eight, junior Sierra Barrett had four and junior Amy Keller, senior Quincy Charleston and senior Emily Goeken each scored two points.
Page 3 of 3 - Charleston, who suffered an injury during the Nevada tournament, scored the first basket of the game and was quickly replaced.
"We've been concentrating on moving the ball more in practice and trying to get more people involved," Moore said. "I feel like people are really concentrating on Shepherd and Pawlak and we've got other players, so if we get the ball spread around that's going to open up Shepherd and Pawlak as well, so we're trying to really move the ball and at times we looked good doing it. We've just got to be a little more consistent."
Rathmann led the Wildcats with 18 points, and Rogers scored 15. Henry added six, and Stauffer and Lowery each had four.
"I was very proud of Morgan Rathmann," Robbins said. "She played extremely well tonight. Shot the ball well, made some very good passes for us. She did a good job."
Class 4, District 12 tournament
Fourth-seed Carl Junction will face fifth-seed McDonald County at 6 p.m. in the other first-round game at Carthage. The winner of Carl Junction and Mac County will face top-seed Webb City at 4 p.m. Thursday, while the winner of Carthage and Monett will play second-seed Nevada at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The championship game is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday.