CENTERBURG — Ella Bouton has had to grow up quickly.

The Fredericktown freshman has started every game this season at the forward position. She’s lined up against bigger, stronger, more experienced players on a nightly basis.

And she’s held her own. Bouton came into 2023 leading the Freddies in steals (2.5 per game) and ranking second on the team in points (10.1), rebounds (5.8), assists (2.6) and blocks (1.4).

But she hasn’t been perfect. There have been freshman mistakes: turnovers, rushed shots, missed assignments.

And Bouton is a bit of a perfectionist. So, recently, she raised the bar for herself.

“I’m trying not to play like a freshman anymore,” Bouton said.

She sure didn’t Saturday.

In a back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minute, it was Bouton who carried Fredericktown to a hard-earned, 58-56 road victory over rival Centerburg.

The freshman scored a career-high 23 points – including 10 in the third quarter, helping Fredericktown overcome a 9-point halftime deficit – to lead the Freddies to their first Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference win of the season.

“She’s had flashing moments (here and) there. Tonight, it was really another step in the right direction,” Fredericktown head coach Tim Maceyko said.

“I’ve said it from the beginning, she’s gonna be a special player. As a freshman – the size, the ability to bring the ball up the floor and hit perimeter shots. She can also post up. We haven’t needed her inside as much yet, but she’s more than capable. She’s a really solid player.”

THE GAME: The first quarter of Saturday’s contest was played at a blistering pace.

Centerburg (5-8, 1-5) and Fredericktown (4-8, 1-5) combined for six three-pointers, with both teams moving the ball and excelling in transition. The Freddies jumped out to a 12-8 lead midway through the period, but the Trojans answered with a quick 7-0 run. The Trojans took a 18-17 lead into the second period.

That’s when Centerburg junior Clara Johnson took over.

The forward imposed her will on both ends of the floor, forcing turnovers in the Trojans’ full-court press and scoring 13 of her 21 first-half points in the period.

After Fredericktown started the quarter on a 7-0 run, Johnson went nuclear, scoring 10 straight points in a 48-second stretch. She hit two free-throws, then stole the ball and scored in transition to tie the game at 24.

She did it again moments later, nailing a three from the top of the key before stealing the ball and converting a lay-in through contact. Johnson hit the and-one free-throw to give the Trojans a 6-point lead midway through the stanza.

And the junior wasn’t done. Her pull-up three with two seconds left sent the home crowd into a frenzy, giving the Trojans a 37-28 lead heading into the locker room.

But the Freddies – and Bouton in particular – weren’t done fighting.

The freshman came out firing, accounting for 10 of her team’s 20 points in the third quarter. Bouton scored on a mix of mid-range jumpers, three-pointers and free-throws. She also assisted on several buckets and pounded the offensive glass.

Fredericktown buckled down defensively as well, holding Johnson to 2 points in the period and the Trojans to 7 total. The Freddies switched from zone to man-to-man defense at halftime, and Centerburg struggled to adjust.

“During halftime, coach gave us a big pep talk,” Bouton said. “Basically, it was like, just power through it and do what we have to do.”

After trailing by 9 at halftime, the Freddies took a 48-44 lead into the fourth quarter. But closing out their arch-rivals on the road did not prove easy.

Centerburg ratched up its full-court defensive pressure midway through the quarter, forcing four straight turnovers. And the Trojans capitalized on the other end. Sophomore Kayla Larimore scored 10 straight points, on a series of driving lay-ins and pull-up jumpers, giving the home team a 54-53 lead with 1:55 left.

Fredericktown recorded a defensive stop with 1:25 left and called a timeout. That’s when things flipped once again.

After working the ball around the perimeter in the half-court, sophomore Cally Carpenter drove baseline. When she found freshman Kit Bellman wide open in the opposite corner, she whipped the ball across the court, firing a pass that landed right in Bellman’s shooting pocket.

Bellman caught it, aimed and fired. Nothing but net.

“We were actually trying to get either Ella or Cally a look, but also looking for the big on the backside. …” Maceyko said.

“We were talking about skip passes, because we knew they were overplaying so much. We were like, if we can get that skip pass backside, we can probably get that big inside. And it happened to be (where) they looked for the skip and they saw Kit on the perimeter, and she hit a big shot.”

Fredericktown went 2-for-5 from the free-throw line down the stretch, but recorded enough defensive stops and offensive rebounds to secure the victory.

Junior Jill Bouton snagged two offensive rebounds off missed free-throws in the game’s final 40 seconds, prolonging possessions and allowing the visitors to run out the clock.

“It felt really good,” Ella Bouton said afterwards. The Freddies celebrated with hugs and high-fives as the final horn sounded. “And it wasn’t just me scoring, it was my whole team. … Everybody had a piece of it.”

Maceyko echoed this sentiment. While Ella Bouton stole the show late, it took a team effort for the Freddies to fend off Centerburg on the road.

“You’ve gotta give Cally Carpenter a lot of credit. I mean, she takes this team on her shoulders. She’s smart. You saw that she did some good ball-handling and knew when to pull it out there at the end, and really led the team from a lot of different ways, not just scoring,” Maceyko said.

“And then Jill, who had that injury (to her wrist) and got it wrapped, and she couldn’t throw the ball across the court. So we took her out there for a minute thinking, we don’t want her to have to shoot free-throws. But she bounced back, went in and was just blocking shots and being big on the boards – and again, the intelligence. She made some good decisions down the stretch that helped us ice the game.”

Ella Bouton led Fredericktown in scoring Saturday with 23 points, including 13 in the second half. Carpenter added 15 and sophomore Lillian Rose added 8 for the visitors.

The Trojans were led by Johnson, who tallied 23 points of her own (21 of which came in the first half). Larimore scored 21 (with 14 coming in the second half) and junior Kennedi Glenn scored 9 for the home team.

MOVING FORWARD: Saturday marked Fredericktown’s first KMAC win this season.

The Freddies, young to begin with, have battled injury issues all winter. But they’ve kept at it, Maceyko said. Saturday showed how far they’ve come.

“(We’re) just so young. Northmor, we had a one-point game, had a one-point lead with a minute-and-a-half left, and we didn’t keep that lead. We kind of blew that lead there (today) – five-point lead there. We weren’t really thinking smart. And then we just talked about, ‘Settle down, stay confident, and do what you’ve been working on all year. You’re capable. You have the athleticism. You’ve just gotta use that basketball IQ.’ And they did that,” Maceyko said.

“We controlled the tempo in the second half. We talked about the third quarter being big. We had to win the third quarter. But we’ve really been working on our rebounding, and I thought the rebounding looked better tonight. I saw some good box-outs and we controlled the boards a lot more. I don’t know what the stats are, but it seemed like it.”

Ella Bouton said the win should give Fredericktown a sense of confidence heading into the second round of league play.

“We just really wanted this one,” she said. “Jill (Bouton) might or might not be hurt, but having Grace (Sipes) and Kennedy (Algire) out is definitely a big hit. But we’ve kept going, just trying to win.”

Centerburg head coach Bo Glenn said Saturday’s game came down to the little things. Fredericktown executed better down the stretch, he said, and that made the difference.

“We wanted Cally (Carpenter) to not get the ball (late), because we knew she’s a great free-throw shooter. And so we’re telling our kids in the huddle, we want to double on her and don’t allow her to get it and go to the foul line. And we didn’t double on her, we doubled on somebody else,” Glenn said.

“So the little details are just destroying us, as far as listening and talking. And missing lay-ups.”

Centerburg will begin the second round of KMAC play on Wednesday at Northmor.

While the Trojans have come a long way, having finished 2-21 and 0-12 in the conference last year, Glenn still believes their best days are ahead. The next step, he said, will be learning how to win games like the one on Saturday.

What will that take?

“Paying attention to detail and listening,” Glenn said. “Because I feel like we are putting them in great situations. Our execution is not happening. You know, we’ve had three overtime losses, a two-point loss, another two-point loss, and a three-point loss. So the record could flip real easily. (We’re just) learning how to win.

“And again, every game comes down to defensive rebounding. We’re giving up way too many points. We’re putting a lot on the board, but now we’re giving it up, so we’ve gotta buckle down and get in the proper positioning. We’re out-of-position a lot, and it killed us on the backside tonight.”

Fredericktown, meanwhile, will face Cardington on the road Wednesday. After starting the season 2-8, the Freddies are 2-0 in 2023, with wins this week over Delaware Christian and Centerburg.

Maceyko called Saturday’s victory “huge” for his team’s confidence moving forward.

“It’s huge because we’ve been growing throughout the season. We could have a lot more wins than what our record shows,” Maceyko said. “Grace (Sipes) is out of her boot now, she might be coming back here. So this is great because we get to the end of the season and maybe we can make a tournament run.

“We’re not gonna win the KMAC. We’re too low (in the standings). But we can probably shock some teams in the second half of the season. And now, this is a confidence-booster. If you lose this one, you’re 0-6 and all that. I think the girls were cheering in the locker room, they’re feeling good about it. They won on Monday, so back-to-back wins.

“I’ve been joking with them saying, ‘You haven’t lost in 2023, you’re undefeated.’ And they’re taking that and saying, ‘OK, now we’re excited.’ I’m gonna watch Cardington play Mount Gilead tonight and then we’ll get ready for them on Monday.”

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