An honest-to-goodness, knockdown, dragout.
One that was anybody's to claim, right up until the final buzzer.
There are probably other ways to describe Alton's clash with Couch in the semi-final round of the 34th annual Thayer Lady Bobcat Winter Classic, but none seem more fitting than that.
But that's just what's expected when these two longtime county rivals hook up on the hardwood.
Especially when a berth in the championship game of a tournament is on the line.
And this particular round belonged to the Lady Comets, as fourth-seeded Alton upset the apple cart and knocked off the top-seeded Lady Indians 68-65 in a hard-fought battle Jan. 17.
The night was littered with big-time performances by big-time performers on both teams.
Couch's sensational junior, Tara Combs, turned in another outstanding night by pouring in a game-high 32 points before fouling out with six seconds left in the game. Combs was especially fantastic in the fourth period, as she stung the nets for 21 points in the last eight minutes of play.
Alton's senior one-two punch of Lauren Hatten and Shelli Ellis were certainly in fine form, with Hatten scoring 28 points and Ellis adding 15 for the Lady Comets. Hatten was really big down the stretch in the last period, when she racked up 14 points to keep Alton in front of Couch.
But maybe the most critical performance of the evening came courtesy of a freshman.
Lady Comet Lacey Hodge.
Alton was forced to go the last two minutes of the game without the services of Ellis, Alex Hower (five points) and Jessica Bailey (one point), who all fouled out in the fourth.
Combs had given the Lady Indians a 60-59 lead with 1:10 left to play when Hodge (14 points) broke loose for a hoop that gave Alton a 61-60 advantage.
Hatten boosted this to a three-point lead with a pair of free throws when Combs answered for Couch.
She tossed in a running layup from the left side of the lane and was fouled on the bucket. Draining her free throw, Combs tied the game at 63-all with 41 seconds left.
Hatten hit two more clutch charity tosses to push Alton in front 65-63 and then the Lady Comets' defense came up with a big play, knocking the ball free from the Lady Indians' possession on Couch's next trip downcourt.
Hodge was fouled and sank two free throws to push Alton's advantage to four, 67-63, at the 24-second mark.
But Combs was not yet through.
She pulled up and nailed a jumper with seven ticks left to pull Couch within two, 67-65.
The Lady Indians called timeout to set up a quick steal on Alton's ensuing inbounds play, but the Lady Comets foiled this by throwing the ball over the top of Couch's trapping defense. Brittany Reihm caught the pass and was fouled immediately. She hit one free throw to give Alton an important three-point lead.
The Lady Indians had one last gasp, but a long-range desperation 3 at the buzzer missed its mark, leaving Alton with a tough 68-65 victory.
Couch jumped in front 10-4 in the first period, using an 8-0 burst to erase a 4-2 lead by Alton. Whitney Mills (nine points) started this run with a shot in the paint, followed by a putback from Lorra Wicker (five points) and back-to-back layups by Jessica Jones (12 points).
The Lady Indians had an opportunity to build on this lead, but Couch went one-for-five from the charity stripe in the last two minutes of the first, and Alton used this break to pull within one, 11-10, after one.
The second period was as hotly contested as the first one was, but the Lady Indians struggled a bit against Alton's aggressive, full-court pressure and planted just two field goals in the frame.
The Lady Indians did open up a 17-10 lead in the early moments of the second, but Alton responded with eight unanswered points to swipe the lead at 18-17, their first lead since early in the first.
Couch pulled within two deep into the second, but two free throws from Hodge, combined with a spinning jumper by Ellis, gave the Lady Comets a 32-26 advantage at the halfway point of the game.
Alton turned this into a 10-point cushion, 38-28, in the third, before Couch got busy and kept the Lady Comets from pulling away.
Mills stroked a trey, Combs hit a layup and Jones knocked down a short jumper to spark a fire for Couch. Then back-to-back free throws by Combs and Kassi Burr (three points) put the cap on a 9-0 run that edged Couch within a single point, 38-37.
Couch continued to chip away in the high-scoring fourth period, even taking a 56-55 lead with 2:07 left in the game, before the Lady Comets regained control and held on to win by three points.
Courtney Gazaway finished with four points for Alton.
Sadee Risner tallied four points for the Lady Indians.
The Lady Indians found enough energy to bounce back with a 53-45 victory over third-seeded Ellington Jan. 18, giving the Lady Indians the third-place trophy in the tourney.
Ellington led 9-8 after one, but Couch rallied to move in front 25-23 at the half and 35-31 after three.
Jones paced a balanced Couch attack with 15 points, while Wicker had 14 and Mills 13.
Combs finished with six points, with Risner and Jordan Hale adding two points each.