By PAUL HINES
The rival Annies spoiled a chance for Mt. Vernon to clinch a South Seven conference title outright on Tuesday night.
Centralia used a strong start and held on to beat the Lady Rams 50-47.
“The first half was on me,” Mt. Vernon coach Jeff Lonnon said. “I think their press did more damage to us than I thought that maybe it could.
“I think the kids played very hard in the second half.”
Danielle Meadows and Abbey Holtkamp led the Annies with 16 points each. Hannah Owens led the Lady Rams with 16 points, and Aaliyah Palmer finished in double figures with 12 points.
Turnovers hampered the Lady Rams throughout the game as Mt. Vernon finished with 21. Centralia took advantage of the Mt. Vernon miscues in the second quarter with a huge run, outscoring Mt. Vernon 20-4 in the quarter. The second quarter surge helped Centralia build a 28-14 halftime lead.
“Just have to do better in the first half on my part,” Lonnon said. “And (it) absolutely was not effort. Our kids had the lead twice in the second half late in the game.”
Mt. Vernon methodically chipped away at the Centralia lead to start the second half. Kelby Kujawa sliced the deficit to 29-22 midway through the third quarter on an offensive rebound. Despite Owens’ fourth foul, the Lady Rams continued to erase the lead. Kujawa made the score 30-26 with another jumper. Palmer tied the game at 36 before Centralia took a two-point lead into the fourth.
“Natalie Williamson was wonderful off the bench,” Lonnon said. “We didn’t lose a thing when we brought her in there. She just played very well in Hannah’s absence.”
The game remained close in the final quarter with the two teams trading baskets and the lead. Owens knotted the game at 42 midway through the quarter. Kujawa gave the Lady Rams a slim lead at 43-42 with a free throw.
Centralia surged back in front only to have Kujawa give the Lady Rams another edge with 90 seconds left. With Centralia up 48-45 and 30 seconds left Palmer drove to the basket hit a shot and was fouled. Palmer missed a chance to tie the game. Mt. Vernon had one last chance down 50-47, but Owens missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Mt. Vernon is 18-6 this season and 7-1 in conference play. The Lady Rams face Marion on Thursday.
“The girls will be fine,” Lonnon said. “Their effort is always top notch.”