CARTERVILLE — It was a celebration more than a competition, a coronation more than a game.
For Carterville seniors Megan Barton, Abbey Crain and Jeniah Thompson, it was one last regular season game in their gym at the end of outstanding high school careers.
It was a win, not without a scare that had nothing to do with the game actually being close. The Lions sputtered and lost Thompson for most of the third quarter after a scary fall but still disposed of SIRR Mississippi rival Pinckneyville 44-26.
Crain scored a game-high 15 points as Carterville, ranked second in this week’s Class 2A poll, improved to 25-2 overall and 10-0 in SIRR Mississippi. Barton added 12 and Thompson collected nine to go along with eight rebounds while playing barely over half the game.
Thompson sat out most of the first quarter after drawing two quick fouls, then wound up on the training table for most of the third quarter. She took a hard fall going after a rebound and landed on her tailbone, crying out in pain as a large crowd fell silent.
After about a minute, Thompson shuffled off the floor, returning with 7.6 seconds left in the third. She scored six points in a 10-0 run that boosted a 31-15 advantage to 26 points.
“She landed on her tailbone and that hurts, but I knew she was OK,” Lions coach Matt Crain said. “She came back to the bench and said, ‘I’m ready, coach. Put me in.’”
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Thompson’s night was a symbol of the team’s — unusually disjointed because of a poor shooting night, but ultimately successful because they defended and rebounded. They held the Panthers (17-10, 5-5) to nine first half points, including only three in the second quarter.
And that still represented a big improvement for Pinckneyville from its first meeting with Carterville. The Lions raced out to a preposterous 40-1 third quarter lead last month on their way to a 49-31 decision.
A much larger crowd than usual turned out to salute Barton, Abbey Crain and Thompson. Crain and Thompson have been part of 105 wins in their four years, and Barton has been part of around 80 after transferring from Carbondale following her freshman year.
Pregame ceremonies were short and sweet. Crain and Thompson shed some tears during an embrace, and Matt Crain admitted he had to work to keep his emotions from bubbling over.
“You know, one of them’s mine and the other two feel like family,” he said. “Since sixth grade, it’s been Abbey and Jeniah, Jeniah and Abbey. Megan came in after their freshman year and she’s right there with them.
“I got emotional a couple of times during school today thinking about it. I’ve been lucky to have them.”
Abbey Crain canned consecutive 3s that staked Carterville to a 10-2 lead and then converted an acrobatic 3-point play late in the second quarter that helped the Lions take a 25-9 advantage at intermission.
Freshman Emily Ruppert came off the bench to score nine points for the Panthers, which got just 13 points from their starting lineup.
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