MOWEAQUA — Two of the Central Illinois Conference's best teams, two of its best players and two of its best coaches matched up in a packed gym on Friday night.
But it was a 15-year-old girl wearing a mask over her nose and mouth who caused the crowd of heated rivals from St. Teresa and Central A&M to cheer together.
Angela Bean is a sophomore at St. Teresa who will have a complex surgery on Jan. 17 in Chicago to treat pseudopapillary tumors on both her liver and pancreas. Her family recently put out a plea for help on Facebook to help pay for gas and other expenses associated with the surgery.
And while St. Teresa's 51-38 win against Central A&M will be one of the most important games in deciding the CIC champion, it's the nearly $4,000 raised by fans of both teams for Angela that the night will be remembered for.
"I think the A&M community is top-notch and they showed that tonight," St. Teresa coach Tom Noonan said. "I think this a great example of how sports can bring people together in hard times.
"They call us rivals, but I think we're a lot more friends."
Following the game, A&M principal Charlie Brown presented a brown paper sack full of cash — nearly $4,000 raised through a 50/50 drawing, a pre-game auction, cheerleader face-painting and a halftime "bucket blitz."
"Kari Medler saw Angela's story on Facebook and sent me a message asking, 'What can we do to help?'" Brown said. "We figured this would be the perfect opportunity, with us hosting them in basketball. She got a lot of volunteers organized, and the St. Teresa parents, both cheer staffs and both basketball programs all came together.
"I had people handing me money even after the game was over as I walked out to give it to (the Beans). It was incredible."
As Brown handed Angela's mom Adriene the money, she told him, "You guys are awesome."
"Get better," Brown said to Angela, then turned to Adriene and said: "We all have kids. We know how it would feel."
Adriene had tears and her eyes and both she and her daughter weren't sure how to react.
"I wasn't expecting this," said Angela, who had to wear a surgical mask to avoid catching any illnesses that would prevent surgery. "It's just amazing to see so many people come together for me. I don't even really know what to say.
"It definitely raises my spirits. I'm in a better mood tonight than I've been in awhile."
When Brown announced how much money had been raised before the start of the fourth quarter, the St. Teresa student section erupted into a chant: "Angela, Angela."
"That was a great moment," St. Teresa senior Isaiah Bond said with a smile. "We knew they were going to have something for her, but to see all these people come out and the support they showed ... it was pretty special."
Noonan and Central A&M coach Rob Smith know each other well, and they can both really coach defense. The result was a second game this season in which neither team could produce much offense. St. Teresa (10-2, 1-0 CIC) also beat A&M (8-5, 0-1) in the finals of the Macon County Tournament, 54-42.
"We told our guys heading into the conference season that this is what the games would be like," Noonan said. "Everybody knows each other. Rob probably has my playbook and I probably have his. And when you have that, with two good teams with really good kids, it's going to be hard to score."
The two teams combined for 40 turnovers — 21 for St. Teresa and 19 for A&M.
"That's too many for us — we try to do too much at times," Smith said. "But it was a difficult game to play in. There was no flow. There was a foul called every other play — I think in a game like this you need to let the kids play. It didn't cost us the game, but it was a tough game to play — it was all fouls and turnovers."
A&M sophomore Connor Heaton owned the first 10 minutes, scoring 15 of A&M's first 16 points to lead the Raiders to a 16-11 lead.
Heaton finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds, but none were easy after the first quarter.
"He was public enemy No. 1 on our scouting report, but he got way too comfortable early," Noonan said. "We made a little adjustment to try to keep him from catching the ball, and I thought our guys did a good job of that in the second half."
After a Jameson Smith 3-pointer gave A&M a 30-29 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter, Bond scored the game's next two baskets — both 3-pointers — to give the Bulldogs a lead they'd never relinquish. Bond led all scorers with 27 points.
"We just needed to keep running our offense and I just needed to keep looking for my shot," Bond said. "We knew it would come."
The win was St. Teresa's 10th straight against Central A&M and 13th in the last 14 games.