COAL CITY – As is fitting in a conference tournament championship game, Friday night’s Interstate Eight Conference girls championship matchup between Herscher and Coal City came down to the wire.
Unfortunately for the Lady Coalers, it was Herscher that was able to get the breaks at the end, and Coal City’s magical tourney run ended in second place as Herscher claimed a 38-32 victory.
Coal City (11-13) entered the tournament seeded fourth and had beaten Lisle, which was seeded fifth but had beaten Coal City twice earlier in the season, in the quarterfinals and top-seeded Plano in the semis. They were looking to remain giant-killers and hoping to hand Herscher just its second loss of the season.
All signs were pointed in that direction, as the Coalers overcame a 13-8 deficit at the end of the first quarter and battled back to have it tied at 28 with 4:30 remaining.
Tyra Ahrens then split two free throws with 4:21 remaining to give Herscher a 29-28 lead, but Coal City’s Mackenzie Bugg, who led the team with 12 points, scored in the lane with 3:12 left to put Coal City ahead, 29-28, and bring a sizable student section to its feet.
The shot by Bugg was the last one for Coal City until the 25-second mark as Herscher ripped off eight straight points to take control, 37-30, before Bugg scored again.
In that time frame, Coal City’s offense was able to work the ball for open shots, but the shots didn’t fall.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Coal City coach Brad Schmitt said. “We had shots that rolled around and hit every part of the rim, but just didn’t go in.
“Our girls had quite a run through this tournament, though. They kept battling and they are still getting better. If nothing else, this is going to have us very well-prepared for the regional. Playing a good team like Herscher this tough will definitely help us. They are 22 or 23 and 1 for a reason.”
After Herscher led, 13-8, at the end of the first quarter, each team scored seven in the second quarter and the Tigers took a 20-15 lead into intermission. Coal City outscored Herscher, 9-5, in the third to pull to within 25-24 and eventually took a 30-29 lead before Herscher pulled away at the end.
Following Bugg in the scoring column for Coal City were Makenna Crater with six points, Maddie Halladay with five, Cali Caruso with three, Lindsay Stopka, Bridget Kauzlaric and Kenady Clayburn with two each. Clayburn led with five rebounds, while Bugg and Caruso hauled down four boards apiece.
“To even be in the position to play for the tournament title is a testament to how hard these girls have worked and how much they have improved from the beginning of the year,” Schmitt said. “We’re still getting better, which is something you want to see at this time of the season. We haven’t peaked yet.”