By Mike Monahan
CHARLESTON – The first of the two Coles County Clashes in girls basketball saw Charleston beat Mattoon, 68-46, on Feb. 18.
Although the end result was the same, Saturday’s Apollo Conference contest at Baker Gym came down to the final seconds as the Trojans won, 52-50.
With 43 seconds left, Mattoon’s Mallory Ramage, a 5-foot-10 junior, who verbally committed to Loyola University in Chicago, made one of three free throws to tie the score at 50. MHS snagged a rebound on a missed free throw so Ramage got the ball to set up the final play. She was guarded by Charleston’s Shae Littleford, who will be playing at the University of Tennessee next season.
Mattoon coach Amanda Aydt elected to hold the ball for one shot.
“Starting from Mallory’s free throws, I was already scared because if she made all three free throws it would be a different ball game,” said Triplett. “We were lucky that she missed the first one. When they got the board back, I was kind of scared that they would make a three-point shot or a big play.”
The two future Division I players stood between the top of the circle and the half-court line waiting for the clock to tick down until it was time to run the play. With the fans anticipating the final play, Ramage dribbled between her legs near the volleyball line.
Mattoon’s Faith Niebrugge then came up from her spot on the post to set a screen on Littleford with 10 seconds left near the free-throw line.
Ramage dribbled to her left, where she was met by Hannah Buescher, forcing her to her right, where Littleford had moved through the screen – putting both Buescher and Littleford on Ramage as she then dribbled to her left.
Ramage dribbled around Buescher and started to go up with a shot when sophomore Alicia Triplett, who started the play on the right guarding the post player Chloe Pruitt, came across the lane, blocked the shot with both hands and grabbed the rebound.
“I was really lucky to not draw the foul when she went in for the shot,” said Triplett. “I was really lucky to see Shae open and throw it to her to make the runner.”
Triplett fired a pass to Littleford, who was about at half court. Littleford raced down the court trailed by three Mattoon players, dribbled toward the basket and released a running, short jumper from about seven feet away. The buzzer sounded right before the ball arced down through the net, ending an improbable final seconds, thrilling the home crowd and keeping the Trojans unbeaten through 10 games.
“I saw the ball go up and I saw Alycia grab the ball and, thankfully, they didn’t call a foul,” said Littleford. “I was able to glance at the clock and when I was at half court I knew I had about 2.9 seconds left. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to shoot a layup. So, I was going to go for the runner.”
Litteford complimented Buescher who helped defend Ramage.
“Kudos to Hannah (Buescher) because there was a screen and Hannah was able to catch her off and she had to shoot a bad shot,” said Littleford.
“To finish a game like that when we have got arguably our MVP of the game, Kat Blase, with five fouls and on the bench,” said Charleston coach Jeff Miller, whose team improved to 10-0 overall and 9-0 in the Apollo Conference. “Alycia (Triplett) made that big block and Shea (Littleford) had the presence to get the shot up when she did because she could have easily taken one more dribble and then the clock would have run out. It has been awhile since I have been involved in a game like this. I am happy for my girls. Mattoon brought their A-game today and this was a really high level (class) 3A basketball game. How about that play Alycia made down there (pointing to the half where Mattoon had the ball).”
Littleford finished with 17 points to lead the Trojans, while Triplett had 12 and Blase 10.
Ramage scored 27 points to lead Mattoon, including 12 in the opening quarter and 10 in the fourth.
“Alycia’s ability is like none other. She is a great sophomore player,” said Littleford. “She is going to have an incredible career here and just for her to have the confidence to step up and make that block and make shots is huge.”
Litteford gave high praise to Ramage, who sometimes works out with the Charleston senior.
“Mallory (Ramage) is amazing,” said Littleford. “I love playing against her. She makes me a better player. So to go up against her on a regular basis in a game like this is huge. Just to be able to play against the best is awesome.”
Staying in first place was also important to Littleford.
We don’t have a postseason this year,” said Littleford. “The Apollo Conference is all we have. We want to win that. That is our goal. To continue to be undefeated and beat Mattoon is a huge thing.”