Mount Carmel is Alexandria dreaming.
Point specifically, the Cubs have their eyes on earning a berth in the final four of the Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA Girls Basketball Tournament for the first time in three years.
Should that dream be realized come the final week in February, it’s likely Mount Carmel will look back on Thursday night’s Catholic League opener against two-time reigning Division I state champion John Curtis as a defining moment.
With guards Jordan Berry and Miranda Strassel scoring 14 and 10 points respectively, the Cubs scored the game-winning basket on a clutch rebound and put-back by sophomore forward Taylor Wilkins with 4.6 seconds to record a 45-44 District 9-5A victory and end a five-game losing streak against the Lady Patriots.
“What a ballgame,’’ Mount Carmel coach Jamie Thomatis exclaimed. “We talked about how big this month is for us. We play some tough competition and we have an opportunity to create our own path to Alexandria. This was a heck of an opportunity.’’
A Class 5A state champion in 2016, Mount Carmel (14-6 overall, 1-0 in District 9-5A) trailed for much of the first three quarters before rallying from a nine-point, second quarter deficit to finally pull even with Curtis at 31-31 on a field goal by Berry that accounted for the final points of the third period.
Fellow sophomore Ameilia Troutman contributed 8 points and four steals from her guard position and Wilkins scored 6 points and had 9 rebounds for the Cubs, who had to overcome 21 turnovers forced by Curtis’ relentless defensive pressure.
“We knew playing a team of (Curtis’) caliber we had to put together a full 32 minutes, which we did not,’’ Thomatis said. “When Jordan Berry got in foul trouble and had to sit for much of that second quarter, the other girls did a good job of keeping us in it. We still left a crack in that window.’’
The teams combined for three lead changes and three ties in the fourth quarter after a Berry field goal scored driving into the line at the start of the period gave the Cubs just their second lead of the game.
Curtis (17-3 overall, 0-1 in 9-5A) led for the final time when a steal by guard Maya Washington and a layup by forward Abryhia Irons produced a 44-43 advantage with 2:06 remaining.
But the Lady Patriots missed the front ends of two one-and-one situations in the final 92 seconds and both sides traded turnovers and scoreless possessions to set up the dramatic final seconds for Mount Carmel that began with 15.7 seconds left.
Berry drove the left side of the lane for a field goal attempt that was partially blocked and Wilkins grabbed the loose ball, pivoted into the lane and scored on the put-back from about 8 feet away.
“We definitely started off pretty slow,’’ Berry said. “But Coach always tells us don’t give up. She believes in us. So we were able to fall back on a coach who believes in us and keep fighting. These girls and I weren’t going to stop till we got the victory.’’
Curtis played its third straight game minus senior guard and Tulane signee Salma Bates, who has not played since spraining an ankle in the semifinals of the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic Girls Platinum Division in which Curtis finished as runner-up.
Forward Jerkalia Jordan scored a game-high 19 points for Curtis and Irons added 16 along with a game-high 10 rebounds. Only two other Curtis players scored, however.
“We’re just not playing very well,’’ Curtis coach Barbara Farris said. “We have our moments. But you look back at the last few games and we’re up and down. We look lackadaisical. We’re not playing with the energy that we need.
“We cannot rely on just a couple of players. We’ve been saying this for years. (The other players) can’t stand around and watch. We’ve got to have people step up.’’
Mount Carmel returns to action Saturday by playing host to University at 3 p.m. before returning to District 9-5A play with a 6 p.m. road game at Dominican on Monday. Curtis plays at Chapelle at 5 p.m. Monday.
MOUNT CARMEL 45, JOHN CURTIS 44
Mount Carmel 6 10 15 14 -- 45
John Curtis 11 13 7 13 -- 44
Mount Carmel: Jordan Berry 14; Miranda Strassel 10; Amelia Troutman 8; Taylor Wilkins 6; Addison Prince 4; Abby Barbaro 3.
John Curtis: Sophie McLean 19; Abryhia Irons 16; Jordan Barfield 5; Jane Wright 4.
3-pointers: Mount Carmel – Jordan Berry 1, Miranda Strassel 2; John Curtis – Jordan Barfield 1, Jerkalia Jordan 2.
Team records: Mount Carmel, 14-6, 1-0; John Curtis, 17-3, 0-1.