CARBONDALE — At the Carbondale 3A girls basketball regional Tuesday night, Carterville jumped out of the gate to a 21-0 lead and never looked back, advancing to the finals for the seventh straight year.
“We were coming off a 10-day layoff, so I was concerned how we would come out,” said Carterville coach Matt Crain. “I had challenged them all week to come out with energy and tonight they certainly did. We were active with our defense leading the charge. When we were playing defense we were getting the shots we wanted and we made them. They were focused and ready to go.”
Carterville (27-3) will take a 14-game winning streak against Centralia (15-14), which beat Massac County, 49-47, on a basket by Allie Fults with five seconds left in the late semifinal. The finals start at 7 p.m. Thursday with the Lions in search of their seventh straight regional title.
“We beat Centralia, but that was the third game of the season and they are much better, so it should be a good game and I’m just proud we get to play them again,” Crain said.
The Lions were led by junior forward Jeniah Thompson with 22 points, five rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal. Junior guard Megan Barton added 16 points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, while McKenzie Rogman finished with 12 points.
“We hadn’t played for 10 days, so we had a lot of energy,” Thompson said. “Our game plan was to pressure them a lot in the first half and get them early. Thursday we have to come out ready like we did tonight.”
The Lions came out of the gate on fire hitting 13-of-15 shots from the field offensively, while displaying a strong defensive showing as well by forcing 11 turnovers. Ten of those turnovers came off of steals that directly resulted in 19 points in the first eight minutes.
Junior guard Abbey Crain got the ball rolling with a steal and pass to Thompson for an easy fast break layup and a free throws at the 1:02 mark. After Thompson and Barton scored, the Lions pulled off seven steals over a 2:23 span that resulted 14 points to propel them to a 21-0 lead with 2:32 left in the quarter.
“They played like they could play and we didn’t do anything to help ourselves with more unforced turnovers than they caused in that first quarter,” said Carbondale coach Marialice Jenkins. “It was disappointing, because we knew what they were going to do and we’ve handled a 2-2-1 press before, so I can’t explain it. Carterville is a good team. They had been off a while, so they were obviously gigged up and ready to go, and we gave them no resistance.”
During the defensive blitz, Barton had three consecutive steals and Lexi Swalls added two steals. Mckenzie Rogman scored six points, with Thompson putting up five and Barton three, respectively.
Carbondale finally got on the board with 2:16 remaining in the quarter on the first of three from beyond the arc by sophomore guard Faith Halliday. The Lions scored the next seven points, including a 3-pointer by Barton, before Jessie Harper drained a three from the right side for Carbondale.
Barton scored with 2.3 seconds left to give the Lions a 30-6 lead heading into the second quarter. Halliday opened the second with her second 3-pointer, but the Lions returned with a 9-0 run to extend their lead to 39-9 with 4:17 left in the first half.
“I never expected to have 30 points at the end of the first quarter,” Crain said. “I just wanted to come out and establish we were here. They came out fired up and I’m very proud of them.”
Carbondale rallied back with an 9-4 run that included 3-pointers by Akira Custer and Halliday to cut the lead to 23, but the Lions closed out on a 6-0 run to take a 47-18 lead at the half. Custer led the Terriers with 14 points, while Halliday added 11.