BENTON — It was a challenge, but the top-ranked Harrisburg girls basketball team remained undefeated on Friday night.

The Bulldogs finished on a nine-point run over the final two and a half minutes to defeat Carterville, 65-54, in the championship game of the Benton Rangerette Christmas Classic.

Carterville’s Jeniah Thompson buried a jump shot to slice the Harrisburg advantage to 56-54 with 2:58 left in the game. But Harrisburg was clutch down the stretch. Matty Hawkins and Lotte Miller each made baskets, and the Bulldogs went 5-for-5 at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“It was a great ball game,” said Harrisburg coach Jake Stewart. “My kids pulled through when they had to. Lotte was huge for us down the stretch. Her and Matty and Karsyn Davis, everyone played big.”

Harrisburg forced a couple of key turnovers late in the game, and the Lions couldn’t make a shot.

“We had some turnovers, and we have to understand that in big ball games you’ve got to be on your toes in every possession,” said Carterville coach Matt Crain. “I was very happy with the effort. Give credit to Harrisburg because they have a fantastic team.”

Madeline Rider fed Brooke Meylor for an easy basket as Harrisburg took a 41-36 edge halfway through the third quarter. Carterville responded with a basket from Lexi Swalls and a 3-pointer from Abbey Crain to tie the game.

Once again, the Bulldogs finished a quarter strong. Hawkins made a pair of buckets in the paint, and Harrisburg scored 11 of the next 13 points to take a 52-43 lead.

Hawkins finished with 20 points and used her length to alter numerous shots in the paint.

“Matty Hawkins has been a different player in this whole tournament,” Stewart said. “Down the stretch, we knew we could go to her because they were pressuring us out front. She would alleviate that pressure with her presence down low. I think she averaged close to a triple-double for the whole tournament.”

The first half was a terrific 16 minutes of basketball. Hanna Schulmeister scored eight straight points for Carterville, including a pair of triples, and the Lions took a 22-17 lead in the second quarter.

Jess Hopson drove through the lane for a layup, and Meylor sank a jump shot with 30 seconds left before halftime to give Harrisburg a 30-29 edge.

“Give credit to Coach Crain, who is a great coach and Carterville,” Stewart said. “They’re going to be one of the best teams in the state over the next few years. This was a great high school girls basketball tournament.”

Lotte Miller added 17 points for Harrisburg (16-0), and Davis tallied 14. Crain paced the Lions (12-4) with 17 points.

Hawkins, Miller and Davis were all-tournament selections for Harrisburg. Thompson and Crain were honored for Carterville.

The rest of the all-tournament team consisted of: Eb Casey (Benton), Aubrey Bruns (Pinckneyville), Lindsey Holhubner (Vienna), Alexis Crain (Meridian) and Anna Miller (Hamilton County).

scott.mees@thesouthern.com

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