By ANDRES MARTINEZ
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- The Unity girls basketball team finally snapped the streak.
The top-seeded Lady Mustangs defeated No. 2 South Fulton 44-35 on Thursday in the championship of the Class 1A Unity Regional. That ended the Lady Rebels' mastery of Unity, which had been eliminated from the regional by South Fulton in the previous four seasons.
"We knew we could do it," Unity senior Brooklyn Moore said. "We weren't going to let in this time."
The win gives the Lady Mustangs (26-4) their second regional title in their school's history and first since 2008. Unity advances to play the winner of Friday's Brimfield vs. Illini Bluffs game on Monday in the semifinals of the Mt. Pulaski Sectional.
"These girls thought they could do it last year," Unity coach Brad Begeman said. "We vowed a year from then we were going to come back and win it (this year)."
Both teams struggled early on, turning the ball over five times each in the opening quarter, en route to 10 turnovers apiece in the first half. The Lady Mustangs led 8-4 after the first quarter. The Lady Rebels (20-10) opened the second quarter on a 5-1 run to tie the game at nine apiece, the first tie since the game began. Unity answered back going on a 5-0 run to take the lead at 14-9. Unity went into the half leading 21-12.
"The first half we didn't run much of an offense," Begeman said. "I told them at halftime we just had to get into our offense sets."
South Fulton began to get back in the game after halftime, but Moore kept the Lady Mustangs in the lead. She scored six of her game-high 14 points in the third quarter, as Unity went into the fourth quarter leading 30-26.
South Fulton carried its momentum from the third quarter into the fourth quarter. After Unity made a basket to make it 32-26, South Fulton sophomore Kylie Crouse hit a 3-pointer. The Lady Rebels stopped Unity on its next possession, and Crouse made a layup with 5:19 to play to make it a one-point game -- the closest it had been since the game was 9-9 in the second quarter.
"We made the plays early in the fourth quarter," South Fulton coach Carl Beebe said. "We were in a good position to win."
The Lady Mustangs stepped up their defensive effort and began to convert on the offensive end. With five minutes to play, junior Maggie Bowles stole the ball from the Lady Rebels and converted a layup to give the Lady Mustangs a 35-31 lead. With two minutes to play, South Fulton junior Kaity Perry fouled Bowles and fouled out. Bowles made the ensuing free throws, and extended the lead to 37-31.
"It was really intense," said Bowles, who scored all six of her points in the fourth quarter. "I knew we had it in the bag."
The Lady Rebels ended their drought with 21.5 seconds remaining by connecting on two free throws. South Fulton were held scoreless for 4:58 in the fourth quarter.
"We came out of our normal zone defense and decided to start trapping them," Begeman said. "They were not ready for it.