GOREVILLE — Isis Mack walked around the court with a net around her neck. Coach Jerry Johnson took pictures with the plaque symbolic of a sectional title. And Kayah Jeter was ready to play a Super-Sectional right after the game.
Suffice it to say the Meridian girls basked in the glow of a historic moment Thursday night.
Leading almost wire-to-wire and owning a double-figure lead for about the last 20 minutes, the Bobcats won their first sectional championship with an easy 67-53 decision over New Athens at the Class 1A Goreville Sectional.
Mack scored 17 points to lead four Meridian players in double figures as it improved to 19-9. It will play Okaw Valley, a 51-43 winner over Shiloh, in the supers at Gum Gym in Salem Monday with a trip to Normal for the state semifinals at stake.
“I want to cry, but I can’t,” Johnson said. “This is amazing. I’ve always said I want to take one team to state.”
If the Bobcats can duplicate this performance on Monday, they’ll probably be making hotel reservations before leaving Salem. They used their quickness to blanket the Yellow Jackets (15-13) at every turn, forcing 23 turnovers and holding them to 42.3 percent shooting from the field.
Most teams who want to slow a game down against a quicker team can. New Athens never came close. Meridian forced it to play a step faster than it wanted, hoisting fast shots and then beating it down the floor in transition for good looks or second chances.
“We were really confident,” said Jeter, who collected 12 points and 10 rebounds. “We knew we were going to work our hardest. We were going to fight, fight, fight. We weren’t going to let down.”
Alexis Crain’s steal and layup gave the Bobcats a 16-10 lead less than six minutes into the game. The margin reached 10 for the first time less than two minutes into the second quarter, then grew to 38-22 at the half on the strength of a 12-2 burst.
Meridian upped the advantage to 56-33 after three quarters. Even a 12-2 run by the Yellow Jackets to start the fourth quarter got them no closer than 13. The Bobcats made just one field goal in the fourth, but made enough free throws to cruise to the finish line.
Cymone Ballard finished with 13 points for Meridian, while Crain netted 10. Courtney Ragland scored a game-high 24 for New Athens.
“It means everything,” Jeter said. “I’m a senior. It means everything. At first, I didn’t think it was going to happen, but it did. I’m so happy.”