Effingham Daily News
Taylor Edwards, whose game-winning shot ended Neoga's season on Thursday, walked out of Arcola's chaotic celebration and found a teary-eyed Madison Butler leaving her locker room.
She saved a big hug for Butler, who scored a game-high 18 points to try to keep the Indians' season alive.
Edwards' last basket of the game, a floater inside the free throw line, turned out to be the play to clinch Arcola's first regional championship since 1988, in a 50-47 win.
The basket gave Arcola a 49-44 lead with 1:28 to play, but EC Thies answered with a 3-pointer for Neoga. Neither coach thought the game was over.
“We're two good teams and we figured it would be this close the whole ball game,” Arcola head coach Nancy Stiff said. “What was the biggest lead? Five points?”
To that point, the game looked eerily similar to the last time the two team's played. Neoga won the previous matchup, 62-58, in November.
“It was very similar and it felt that way the whole game,” Neoga head coach Kim Romack said. “We knew it was going to be close, no matter what.”
Edwards and Bekah Montgomery each missed free throws, leaving the Indians with the ball, trailing by two points, with 22 seconds to tie or take the lead.
Butler was called for a carrying violation, erasing the Indians' first opportunity to tie or win the game. They got another chance after Montgomery went 1-for-2 from the line to take a three-point lead.
Jillian Deters made both of the 3-pointers she attempted going into the final possession of the game, but hadn't scored in the second half.
She attempted her third 3-pointer of the game from the nearside corner of the floor, but it bounced off the rim and Arcola corralled the rebound as time expired.
“There were some great defensive stops,” Stiff said. “I felt like (Neoga) turned the ball over, late, a couple times, which didn't help them at all.”
Deters finished with eight points in the final game of her high school career. Romack said it's hard to lose seniors at the end of every season, but the Indians lost Deters for a short time in the fourth quarter after she picked up her fourth foul.
She checked out of the game with 4:44 to play in a 40-40 tie and Arcola took advantage. The Lady Riders scored their next four points in the paint, where Deters would've been.
“They went on a run there and we had a hard time with that opposite cut they were running to the block,” Romack said. “That run made the difference in the game.”
Arcola held a 47-42 lead when Deters checked into the game, with 2:54 to play, which was a significant during a game in which neither team led by more than five points.
The Lady Riders' victory ended a 26-year regional championship drought for the program and Stiff, who is in her 41st season as Arcola's head coach.
“It's wonderful,” Stiff said. “I'm so happy for these kids. It's all about the kids and I'm so proud of them.”
Neoga's season ends with a 20-9 record.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arcola 14 13 7 16 50
Neoga 15 15 5 12 47
Arcola: Karmazinas 2, Reece 16, Fishel 5, Montgomery 6, Conlin 8, Edwards 13
Neoga: Butler 18, Ott 6, Thies 8, Deters 8, Roy 7