East St. Louis and Cahokia each have their sights squarely set on winning the Class 3A state championship.
But if both survive the semifinals of the Mascoutah Sectional this week, only one will have that opportunity.
The Flyers, of the Southwestern Conference, and the Comanches, of the South Seven Conference, are on a course to meet in the title game of the sectional at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"We're focused on one game at a time," said Cahokia coach Darian Nash, an objective filled with potential potholes. "It's hard to keep these young guys off social media and things of that nature. I've talked to my guys about not giving the other team locker-room talk --not being so public about everything."
Cahokia (28-3) will open the tournament against conference opponent Carbondale (19-9) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Comanches, champions of the South Seven, defeated the Terriers twice in the regular season: 62-56 on Nov. 30 in Carbondale and 89-60 on Jan. 25 in Cahokia.
East St. Louis coach Tony Young, in his first season, also said he's trying not to look too far ahead. The Flyers (20-7) will meet the Orphans (21-8) for the first time this season in the second semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"This is the time of the year when everybody steps up and everybody comes in ready to play," he said. "It's a fun time of the year, but the last thing I'm thinking about right now is Cahokia. I've got to get past Centralia first."
East St. Louis defeated the Comanches 61-60 in the championship game of the Class 3A Althoff Regional last season, then advanced all the way to the Springfield Super-Sectional before losing to Springfield Lanphier.
Nash on facing the Terriers for a third time: "They're going to be tough. We know each other very well. It's (about) who has the best game and who can execute. I think that's who will come out on top. We know they're well coached, and on any given day you can be beaten."
What the Comanches must do to survive the sectional: "We're a work in progress," Nash said. "We're grinding, grinding, grinding. As a coach, you're never satisfied with your play. It's not the big things that beat you in the playoffs, it's the little things. So we're focused on the little things and hope it's our night that night and we come out victorious."
Cahokia's top players: seniors Keenan Minor (21.4 points per game, 92 3-pointers) and Vincent Jackson (13.2 points) and junior Darius Austin (12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds).
Carbondale's top player: junior Devontavius Payne (16 points).
Nash on why he's optimistic about his team: "We're so deep. It's hard to key on one area with us. We have a lot of seniors and we can play the post game. We're well-rounded. It's hard to game-plan against us. Plus, we're playing pretty good defense right now. I think we have a good chance to come out of this sectional if we play under control and don't get rattled."
Young on playing the Orphans, also of the South Seven Conference, and former Alton coach Lee Bennett: "They're a very well-coached program, a very good team, disciplined. They run a lot of good stuff. They pressure the ball. You know they're going to come out and play their butts off, and we've got to be prepared to do the same. If we do what we do well, we'll be tough to beat as well."
Young on his belief that his team can win the state tournament: "If I didn't (believe that), I wouldn't coach it. I wouldn't even waste my time going out there. ... What it boils down to is kids coming out ready to play. No one wants their season to be over with. No one wants their high-school career to be over with. Everybody comes out with a different sense of urgency come playoff time."
East St. Louis' top players: seniors Deshawn Munson (17.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.5 assists), Johnny McCray (15 points, 8.4 rebounds) and Daniel Williams (10.6 points, 17 3-pointers).
Centralia's top players: juniors Jerod Simmons-Young (13 points), Jake Wood (13 points) and Chase Alcorn (10 points).
Young on his first playoff run: "I'm enjoying it. I'm taking time and enjoying coaching, having the opportunity to compete against other teams and strategize against other teams. This is what I got in it for. I got in it to coach these games. I got in it to try to win a state tournament. I've got a lot of talent and some good kids."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.