COLLINSVILLE — After watching his team shoot just one free throw in a pair of regular season losses to Belleville East, Granite City coach Raffi Karibian's pre-game message was clear on Tuesday at the Class 4A Collinsville Regional.
'I told the girls we had to take the ball to the basket," Karibian said.
And on the this night, the Warriors listened.
Third-seeded Granite City made 15-of-19 free throw attempts, including four straight in the final 30 seconds from Tatiana Wartenbe, as it stunned the second-seeded Lancers 44-39 at Vergil Fletcher Gymnasium.
"It's a big win for our basketball program,'' Karibian said. "We knew we had to try and take the ball to the basket which is something we didn't do the first two times we played East and on the defensive end we were able to keep them from getting comfortable.
"They (East) are a great team and they're better then we are. Our kids just kept playing tough and we were able to make enough plays down the stretch to get it done.
The win moves the Warriors into the title game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday against top-seed Belleville West.
The Maroons defeated Collinsville 45-34 in the first semifinal on Tuesday.
Playing four different defenses in an attempt to slow down the athletic Lancers, Granite City (15-13) led for most of the night as Natalie O'Keefe and Wartenbe combined for 28 points.
Granite City led 14-3 after one quarter and 26-19 at halftime. But East (16-10), getting five points from junior Montira M osby in the third quarter, tied the game at 30.
An Erin Holl basket gave East a 32-30 lead early in the final quarter, but like they did all night, the Lancers offense remained sporadic.
East finished the night making just 14 of 52 shots from the floor.
A 3-point shot by Abbie Daily with 3:03 remaining gave Granite City the lead for good at 37-34.
Mosby cut Warriors lead to 40-39 with a free throw with 37 seconds left, but Wartenbe calmly made her four free throws in the end to send the Warriors into the title game.
"She's one of our best free throw shooters,'' Karibian said. "I felt good about our chances even though she missed a couple earlier on the technical foul.''
O'Keefe paced the Warriors with 15 points, while Mosby had 11 for East.
Belleville West 45, Collinsville 34
The top-seeded Maroons fought off a horrendous first quarter and forced 34 Kahoks turnovers to get past the host school in the first semifinal of the night.
Confusing the Maroons with a triangle-and-two defense, the Kahoks led 6-3 in a first quarter which the teams combine for 19 turnovers.
But West (21-7), getting seven second quarter points from 6-foot-5 junior center Jesheon Cooper and five from reserve Erika Harvey, rallied to lead 19-17 at halftime.
"Strangely enough we had worked for the past couple of weeks going up against the box-and-1, but we sure struggled against it tonight. That's my fault,'' West coach Clayton Fisher said. "But give credit to the Collinsville girls. Coach (Lori) Billy had a great game plan and her team executed it well.
"Fortunately for us, our pressure I think our pressure was able to get to them a little bit. The one thing they couldn't really prepare for was our quickness and we were able to exploit that against them after the first quarter.
Sophomore Shay Fluker then scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter as the Maroons pushed the ld to double digits.
Trailing by 12 points, Collinsville cut the Maroons lead to four points on a layup by Aubreeney Brady midway in the fourth quarter, but West got big plays down the stretch from Imani Berry and Cooper to ice the win.
Cooper and Harvey had 11 points each for West, while Fluker chipped in with 10.
Brady led Collinsville (12-15) with 12 points.
"I was proud of our effort. But with 34 turnovers, we just really had difficulty against their pressure,'' Billy said. "To win 12 games with the adversity we've been through, I'm proud of this group. And the future looks very bright.''