Pekin girls basketball players gave Coach Becky Fulkerson a birthday cookie and sang “Happy Birthday” to her Friday night.
The celebration came after the Lady Dragons’ nail-biting 43-42 victory over Canton in a Mid-Illini Conference game at Dawson Hawkins Gym.
“It was an ugly win, but it’s still a win,” said Fulkerson, whose birthday is actually Saturday.
How ugly of a victory was it for Pekin?
The Lady Dragons (6-2, 1-1) fell behind after leading by nine points (40-31) with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter and survived a final minute filled with missed shots and free throws by both teams.
A floater by Anna Plumer sent Canton (7-1, 1-1) in front 42-41 with 2:49 left. It was the only time the Little Giants led in the fourth quarter.
Haley Peterson’s two free throws with about a minute to go ended up putting Pekin ahead for good when neither team could score down the stretch.
Plumer’s open 3-point attempt at the buzzer failed to drop. Canton had the game’s final three possessions and missed three shots.
Bailey Tibbetts tossed in a game-high 15 points for Pekin. Maddy Cash and Peterson each had eight points for the Lady Dragons and Sydney Diekhoff had seven.
Pekin needed every one of Tibbetts’ points. The 5-foot-11 senior got off to a great start, scoring the game’s first six points on two layups and a put-back of a missed shot.
“Bailey was finishing,” Fulkerson said. “That’s what we’ve been expecting and hoping we’d be getting from her. I hope she can build on what she did (Friday).”
Pekin struggled under the boards.
“We need to work on our rebounding,” Fulkerson said. “We stopped counting after we gave up 15 second-chance points. We also missed too many layups. But I thought our defense took Canton out of its offense at times.”
It was the first road game of the season for the Little Giants, who have a vastly different look after losing four starters to graduation including Cloe Churchill, the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,098 points.
Churchill is a freshman guard at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Brittany Murphy and Sydnie Wells are playing softball at Illinois Wesleyan and Sydney Shubert is playing softball at Heartland Community College.
Canton coach Layne Langholf was pleased with the efforts of his inexperienced team Friday.
“We struggled to score late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter and that hurt us,” he said. “But we had chances to win and that’s a good sign. Our kids weren’t afraid to take pressure shots.”
Plumer scored 11 points in the fourth quarter. The 5-10 sophomore finished with 13 points. Cassidy Fawsett also tossed in 13 points for the Little Giants, all in the first three quarters.
Neither team shot well from the field. Pekin was 16-for-49 for 32 percent and Canton was 17-for-56 for 30 percent.