Thursday night's Class 3A Carmel regional championship between the host Corsairs and visiting Richmond-Burton Rockets could be classified one of two ways, depending on which glasses one chose to look through: Defensive masterpiece, or perhaps, "an offensive struggle" as Carmel coach Kelly Perz said through a smile.
Fortunately for Perz, her Corsairs survived 31-29, claiming the program's first regional championship since 2004.
"It's been seven years since we've gotten a banner or a regional or anything, so this is really big," Carmel senior Sarah McHugh said. "In the end we wanted it so bad; we just went and got it."
Each team converted just 11 field goals, even though the Corsairs put up 20 more shots. Each team scored 8 points off turnovers, despite the fact Carmel forced 28 and Richmond-Burton created only 9. Each team made 7 free throws.
The game was tied at seven different junctures, and no team led by more than 3 at any point.
The Corsairs (18-12) have learned how to close.
Prior to their season finale against Benet Academy on Feb. 4, the Corsairs had lost five games by 4 points or less and a total of eight games by 9 points or fewer. Then, they edged Benet in overtime, finally finishing strong.
"It seems so long ago, but we learned a lot from that game," Perz said.
On Thursday the Corsairs demonstrated as much, holding the Rockets (20-8) without a basket for nearly three minutes at the end of the fourth quarter while scoring 6 points of their own to erase a 27-24 deficit and take a 30-27 lead.
Richmond-Burton drew to within a basket at 30-29 when Erin Thomas (12 points, 3 steals) made a layup with 34 seconds left. The Rockets had a chance to go ahead with seven seconds left, but Alex Callanan's contested layup bounded off the rim and into the hands of Carmel's Kaitlyn Lynch.
Lynch made a free throw, forcing Thomas to throw up a desperation shot from near half-court to as time expired.
"When you turn over the ball that much, we're lucky it was only a 2 (point game)," Rockets coach Melanie Hinz said. "It's frustrating."
McHugh (12 points, 6 steals, 5 rebounds) hit four free throws and Kathleen Felicelli made another pair down the stretch for the Corsairs to give them a lead and put pressure on the Rockets.
"It tells us what kind of team we are and what we can be," McHugh said. "Earlier in the season we had a lot of close games that we ended up losing, so to be able to finish a game (with a win) was a big deal."
Added Perz: "They very easily could have folded. It shows a lot of growth, a lot of maturity from the whole team."
Carmel will face Vernon Hills in the St. Viator sectional semifinal on Tuesday at 8:10 p.m.