BENTON — Harrisburg and Carterville will meet in the championship game of the 2017 Benton Rangerette Christmas Classic.
Harrisburg, 15-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, survived a struggle with Hamilton County, winning 63-56. In the meantime, Carterville advanced to the championship game with a 62-43 win over Pinckneyville.
The Lady Bulldogs got off to a quick start on Hamilton County, rolling to an early 11-2 lead. But, the Foxes weren’t having any of it, closing to 18-15 at the end of the quarter.
“I told the kids in the walk through today, ‘You’re not going to beat them like you have won (previous games),” said Harrisburg coach Jake Stewart.
After leading by seven at intermission, Harrisburg saw Hamilton County grab the momentum midway through the third quarter. The Lady Foxes cut the Harrisburg lead to just 41-40 with 3:52 left in the quarter when Anna Miller drained an 18-footer.
This time it was Harrisburg’s turn to respond. The Lady Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run that spanned the remainder of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
Matty Hawkins scored six straight points, two conventional three-point plays, to get Harrisburg back on track. By the time the Harrisburg run ended, the Lady Bulldogs had built a 55-40 lead.
“That’s a credit to my kids,” said Stewart. “Everyone doesn’t want to lose. Hamilton County is pretty good. We’ve figured that out. They’ve hit us in the mouth a few times. Our kids, I think they just responded to ‘We’re about to lose this game. We better get going.’”
Hawkins led Harrisburg with 20. Miller scored 15 to lead Hamilton County.
In the meantime, Carterville used a sticky full-court press and a troublesome 1-2-2 halfcourt trap to run past Pinckneyville.
After leading by as many as 18 points early in the third quarter, Carterville saw its lead slip to 11 when Kenzie Rushing and Aubrey Bruns hit consecutive treys. But, that was just the wake-up call the Lady Lions needed. They rebuilt a 44-30 lead by the end of the quarter.
“Our full court pressure got them sped up a little bit and we were pretty smart with it,” said Carterville coach Matt Crain. “We created a few turnovers and were able to get out and run a little bit, get a few easy buckets and get the lead up there. The games aren’t going to be perfect. You keep plugging along. But, we’ll take that on the second night of a tournament.
“This is our third game in 24 hours. Our legs are a little shot. We found our effort. We stayed the course. We had a few spurts and pulled away from them.”
Carterville placed four in double figures, led by Abbey Crain with 20. Jeniah Thompson had a dozen while Megan Barton and McKenzie Rogman had 10.
Rushing and Bruns led Pinckneyville with 10 points.
Pinckneyville and Hamilton County will meet in the third place game tonight at 6 p.m. While Harrisburg and Carterville play at 7:30 p.m.