Blazing start helps top-seeded Unity claim Lady Tiger Classic for first time in school history

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Unity's Sophia Shaffer, left, drives on Brown County's Ashlee Markert during the championship game of the Beardstown Lady Tiger Classic on Thursday night in Beardstown, Ill. | David Adam photo

BEARDSTOWN, Ill. — Unity’s Kyra Carothers would have rather been anywhere else this week than the Beardstown Lady Tiger Classic.

“If I’m really honest with you, I dread this tournament,” she said. “It’s right after Christmas, and I just I want my break and blah, blah, blah.”

Carothers also knows how much Unity coach Brad Begeman enjoys bringing his team to Beardstown, and there was no better holiday gift to give him than a tournament championship.

The Mustangs scored the first 10 points of the game and limited Brown County to 6-for-26 shooting in the second half to claim a 55-46 victory in the title game on Thursday night at Beardstown High School. It’s the first championship for Unity, which has placed second twice, in the 40-year history of the 24-team event.

“This is Brad’s favorite tournament favorite time of the year,” Carothers said. “He’s wanted to win this so badly, and this year, I think it really clicked in our minds that we really want this badly, too. We’ve been through here all four years, and we’ve come up short every single year. It just feels nice to kind of secure it.”

The game was secured in the first three minutes.

The top-seeded Mustangs (17-1) made their first four shots — an offensive rebound putback and a layup by Kylee Barry, and 3-pointers from Carothers and Sophia Shaffer — and led 10-0 less than three minutes into the game. 

“The way it started, I hoped it was going to stay that way, and I was going to be sitting down without sweating it out all night,” Begeman said. “I kept telling them, ‘They’re going to make runs. We’ve got to play through their runs, and when they throw a punch, we’ve got to turn around and come right back.”

Meanwhile, second-seeded Brown County (14-2) missed its first six shots and turned the ball over twice before Klare Flynn’s 3-pointer finally broke the ice. The Hornets, who have lost five in a row to the Mustangs, never led.

“We seem to dig ourselves a hole every time we play them, and then we have to try to work our way out,” Phelps said. “We cut it four once and five another time, but we just seem to do enough to lose. (Unity) just, for some reason, gets in our girls’ heads. I think before we walk out the door that we know it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Brown County made sure it was a dogfight.

After the early storm, the Hornets got back to within four points before going into halftime down 31-25. Brown County then got a free throw from Klare Flynn, and when Grace Hedden grabbed the miss on the second free throw, she found Flynn open on the perimeter. Her 3-pointer got the Hornets within 31-29.

Unity’s perimeter shooting prevented Brown County from ever grabbing the lead.

The Mustangs made nine of 21 3-point attempts in the game, and Shaffer made four in the third quarter alone. She was knocked into the Unity bench by a Brown County defender on the last 3-pointer, which put Unity ahead 43-35.

The Hornets never got closer than six points after that.

Shaffer led Unity with 17 points, and Carothers added 15. Brown County’s switch to a zone helped keep senior Ashlynn Arnsman (8 points) in check, but Unity also got a combined 15 points from Barry and Caroline Knox.

“I think (Brown County) heavily underestimated a lot of our girls. I think a lot of teams in the area do,” Carothers said. “Ashlynn is a phenomenal basketball player. She draws a lot of attention, and it just opens up so much. Kylie had our first six points, and Sophia is a phenomenal shooter. It all kind of flows together.”

“It seems like everybody’s got a player you can always sag off on, but we feel like we can put five girls out there who they’re going to have to respect,” Begeman said.

Klare Flynn led the Hornets with 19 points, and twin sister Katey Flynn scored 15. Brown County should get at least two more chances in January to beat Unity — and possibly a third during the postseason.

“We need to take care of the ball, but we also need to execute better and just run our stuff,” Phelps said.

In other games:

  • Illini West lost 44-32 to Havana in the third-place game. Rylee Reed had 21 points for the Chargers, who had no other player score more than three points. Starting point guard Elly Krieg was injured in the first half and did not score.
  • Macomb captured seventh place when Kylie Robinson made a 3-pointer with one second to play in a 50-47 victory over Lewistown. Robinson scored 13 points, and Ainsley Holthaus led the Bombers with 14 points. 
  • Pittsfield lost 33-27 to Athens in the consolation championship. Lainie Marable scored 12 points and Ellie Ten Eyck contributed 10, but the rest of the Saukees combined for just five points.
  • Pleasant Hill/Western trailed 20-8 after one quarter and never caught up in a 37-29 loss to South Fulton in the play-in consolation bracket. Ava Wombles scored 10 points for the Wild Wolves.
  • West Hancock outscored Abingdon 14-6 in the fourth quarter but lost 58-56 in the consolation losers bracket. Lillie Woodworth led the Titans with 23 points. 
  • Liberty outlasted Rushville-Industry 24-20. Cora Schuette had nine points for the Eagles. 

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