NEW ATHENS — Placing fourth in the state in volleyball just whetted the New Athens Yellow Jackets' appetite for success.
Denae White scored 12 of her 21 points in the third quarter in helping the Yellow Jackets pull away to a 60-46 victory over the Sandoval Blackhawks on Friday in the championship game of the Class 1A New Athens Girls Basketball Regional.
It was the first Yellow Jackets' first regional title in girls basketball. They'd also never won a regional title in volleyball before this past season.
Six members of the basketball team, including four of the five starters, were members of the volleyball team.
"They got the taste of it in volleyball, and it has kind of carried over," New Athens coach Erik Hager said.
White said the experience of going to state in volleyball has fueled their ambitions in basketball.
"We all figured out that we loved to win, so it's definitely helped us," White said. "It makes us want to push and work hard so we can do it again."
The Yellow Jackets (23-2) will play the Carrollton Hawks (21-6) at 8 p.m. Monday in the Class 1A White Hall North Greene Sectional.
Carrollton, thanks to a 3-pointer by Maddie Struble in the closing seconds, knocked off Hardin Calhoun 51-49 Thursday in the championship game of the Hardin Calhoun Regional.
The Yellow Jackets will enter the sectional with a 21-game winning streak.
Hager said the Yellow Jackets dealt with an early change in head coaches, and then picked up steam as the season progressed.
"It's kind of a unique situation because I took over on maternity leave for Coach (Jill) Lannert) after four games," Hager said. "She did a great job getting them prepared, and I was able to step in and we were able to get on a roll."
The Yellow Jackets also got 15 points from Alina Lance and 10 points from Anisa Al-Bori and Aleen Dutkanych.
Sandoval ended its season at 13-6. The Blackhawks should return their entire squad next season as they had no seniors.
Sophomore guard Christonia Saddler led Sandoval with 20 points. She scored 18 of her points, including five 3-pointers, in the first half.
"She was on fire, and we really had no answer for her," Hager said.
Saddler scored the first basket of the game with a two-handed set shot from the wing as the Blackhawks grabbed a quick 7-2 lead.
A 10-footer from the baseline by Dutkanych with 35 seconds left in the first quarter gave the Yelllow Jackets a 16-13 lead.
The Yellow Jackets led 20-13 early in the second quarter, but Saddler connected on a pair of 3s that enabled the Blackhawks to close to within 22-21.
The Yellow Jackets managed to maintain a 35-27 lead at halftime. They went on an 11-2 run that included the first six points of the third quarter to open a 46-31 lead.
The surge was keyed by four turnovers as the Yellow Jackets dialed up their pressure as well as blanketing Saddler at the 3-point stripe with either Al-Bori or Abby Marlow.
"We made sure somebody was constantly on her," White said. "We had to shut her down otherwise it was going to stay close. She was not missing anything."
The Yellow Jackets also focused on getting the ball more to White in the lane.
"We wanted to get the ball in the middle more, and we finally did," Hager said. "We settled for more outside shots than I would like to see in the first half. We were able to get it to the middle and we were able to finish in the second half."
The Yellow Jackets' lead reached 18 points on a 3 by Al-Bori with 3:10 left. After that, they worked the clock to make sure there was no comeback by Sandoval.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.