Aubrie Carlisle enjoyed one last look at the basket at Lee Lohman Arena.
It was a tear-filled, wide-open look that sent the St. Ambrose women’s basketball team on its way to its 20th victory of the season.
Wednesday's start was the 63rd of Carlisle’s college career, but her first since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a Feb. 2 game at Calumet St. Joseph.
Joining the other four seniors on the St. Ambrose roster in the lineup for the final regular-season home game of their collegiate careers, Carlisle scored the opening points of the Bees’ 75-54 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference victory over Trinity Christian.
"This program has meant so much to me, and the chance to be out there with my teammates one last time, it was so special," Carlisle said. "It wasn’t the senior night I would have dreamed of, but it was one I’ll never forget."
What transpired was by design.
As a tribute to the contributions Carlisle has made throughout her collegiate career — the 627 points, 327 rebounds and a role as the team’s defensive stopper — the 5-foot-8 guard from Carthage, Illinois, banked home an uncontested jumper six seconds into the game.
Positioned under the basket for the opening jump and tears already streaming down her cheeks, Carlisle took a pass from teammate Mercedes Jackson after St. Ambrose won the tip.
Players from both teams slowed and allowed Carlisle to hit the short jumper.
"I had tears in my eyes the whole time," Carlisle said. "I just didn’t want to miss."
After knocking down the shot, Carlisle was quickly surrounded by teammates in a brief celebration, and as planned, Trinity Christian’s Breanna Toppen scored on an uncontested layup before St. Ambrose coach Krista Van Hauen called a timeout to replace Carlisle in the lineup.
Carlisle returned to the court in the game’s final 30 seconds, and the Bees put the ball in her hands to dribble out the clock.
Tears returned as the clock ran down and the game ended.
"Aubrie deserved that kind of a moment, given everything she and our entire senior class have meant to the program," Van Hauen said. "You hate to see any player have to deal with an ACL injury, but when it happens to a senior in her fourth year who has been a big part of the program, it’s tough."
Van Hauen approached Trinity Christian coach Bill DeRuiter about the possibility of starting Carlisle last week, shortly after the severity of the injury was determined.
"They were on board with the idea, and their help made it work," Van Hauen said.
The cooperative endeavor created a memory Carlisle said she will cherish for a lifetime.
"To have so many people go to so much trouble, I can’t say enough about the support I’ve had from my teammates, my coaches, my parents and the St. Ambrose family," said Carlisle, who is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair the ACL next month.
"I’m so grateful to have had the chance to be out there one more time with my teammates. Our season, it isn’t over, but to be out there one last time, the feeling is hard to put into words. It really meant so much."
Seniors Carlisle, Jackson, Hailey Cook, Candace Finnin and Hannah Ford combined for 46 points and 23 rebounds as St. Ambrose reached the 20-win mark for the first time since winning 22 games during the 2015-16 season.
Cook, Finnin and Madi Epperson fueled a run of 10 unanswered points midway through the opening quarter that allowed the Fighting Bees to open a 20-8 margin.
The lead grew to 38-18 with 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter when Epperson connected on the third of her five 3-point baskets.
Trinity Christian (3-25, 1-18 CCAC) pulled within 11 points twice late in the third quarter but despite a 23-point effort from Toppen, the Trolls had no answer for the 16-1 run St. Ambrose put together to open the fourth quarter.
Epperson led the Fighting Bees (20-8, 13-6) with 23 points, while Finnin, Jackson and Cook finished with 16, 14 and 12 respectively.
"We played the way we are capable of in the fourth quarter, and we need to keep that going," Finnin said.
Assured of a postseason berth, St. Ambrose completes its regular season Saturday at CCAC-leading St. Francis (Ill.) on Saturday and can earn a home game in the league tourney with a win in the 1 p.m. game.