CENTRALIA — Carterville's first Class 3A girls basketball regional title nearly slipped away in the final minute Thursday night against host Centralia.
Up 11 with 3:53 to go, the Lady Lions needed a last-second layup from Hanna Schulmeister off a loose ball to seal their 49-45 win at Centralia High School. Schulmeister's only bucket of the game came after the ball was batted around in the lane and bounced right to her, almost in stride to the basket.
"We got a little tight there at the end, but, we held it together and we got it taken care of," Carterville coach Matt Crain said. "We got that big play at the end to kind of seal it, and get the monkey off our back."
The top-seeded Lady Lions (27-3) advanced to the Waterloo Sectional beginning Tuesday night with the victory. Jeniah Thompson scored 19 points and Megan Barrett added 10.
Centralia (11-20), the 10 seed at the regional, got some timely shots and three missed free throws from Carterville to climb within three points with 1:08 to go. Nikita Maines split a pair of free throws to cut the Lady Lions' lead to five, and after Carterville's Montana Taylor split a pair at the stripe, Reece Knolhoff dialed in her third 3-pointer of the game to pull the Annies within three, 46-43.
Anna Billingsley, who had nine points, split a pair at the free-throw line to put Carterville up four with a minute to go. Centralia then committed its 13th turnover of the game, and was forced to foul again.
Billingsley, however, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28.5 seconds to go, and Maines finished a drive to cut the lead to two with 11.4 seconds to go.
The Annies got a hand on Carterville's pass in the lane, but weren't able to come up with the turnover. Schulmeister easily laid it in, and the Lady Lions escaped despite its 13 turnovers.
Centralia nearly came back to win after scoring just four points in the third quarter.
"We struggle scoring sometimes, but I was proud of the girls in the fourth quarter," Centralia coach Roger Stieg said. "Just kept plugging away, and we were able to get some shots to go down. They had an opportunity. Down two, the ball kind of bounced away. It bounced away from Carterville, but it bounced right to the Carterville girl and they got the layup at the end."