Time for the Tigers? Edwardsville poised for another postseason run

News-DemocratFebruary 16, 2014 

— The Edwardsville Tigers are a much different squad entering the postseason this year compared to recent years.

The Tigers (24-1) are the top seed in the Class 4A Granite City Girls Basketball Regional. They'll play the Quincy Blue Devils at 6 p.m. Wednesday in semifinals.

"We're not the same team,'' Tigers coach Lori Blade said. "We're not as big, we're not as strong, we're not as physical. Every group is different. We've had some big inside presence for the last five or six years, and this year we really don't have that size.

"This is probably one of the smallest teams we've had in several years. The dynamics of this group is much different than last year. We've tweaked a few things and gone to these kids' strengths rather than what we had to offer last year on the floor.''

With 6-foot-2 senior Emmonie Henderson leading the way last year, the Tigers went 30-0 and advanced to the championship game of the Normal West Sectional before being upset by Peoria Richwoods 41-36.

"We just happened that one night in the sectional final of all times to have it where everybody had a tough night shooting, loose balls didn't go our way,'' Blade said. "It was just one of those nights. You're going to have those. Everybody has those. It's a part of the game.''

This year, the Tigers have relied heavily on the senior duo of Kortney Dunbar and Aalyah Covington.

The 6--1 Dunbar averages 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while the 5-foot-11 Covington averages 17.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Dunbar is a Tenneesse recruit, while Covington is headed to St. Louis University.

Senior Kennedy Martin is the next highest scorer for the Tigers with 7.7 points per game.

Blade said it's important for the other players on her squad -- Morgan Sharpe, Makenzie Silvey, Maddie George, Cristeon Walter, Leeah Jason and Annie Ellis -- to step up when needed.

"People have played some freak defenses on us, some box-and-ones, some triangle-and-two, and the other role players around those two players are very capable of stepping in and doing more scoring,'' Blade said. "They are going to have to. It can't be about Kortney and Aalyah all the time.

"If the other kids don't step up and the other teams can just focus on those two kids, then we are probably not 24-1. Those other kids are very valuable. It may not show it in the stats per say and what everybody talks about, but they are.''

The Tigers have won seven straight games since suffering their lone loss -- a 60-34 loss to a Rock Bridge squad from Columbia, Mo., that is ranked 11th in the MaxPreps national poll.

"They are an awful good team,'' Blade said of Rock Bridge, which has five Division I recruits. "We've probably beaten who we should and we probably shouldn't have beaten them, but I would like to think we could have been more competitive than we were.

"I'm big on learning from losses, so hopefully that is what we've done.''

Blade said the loss helped the Tigers refocus.

"The kids have come along here in the last two weeks, I think,'' Blade said. "We had a nice game against Alton (69-39 win) the other night and hopefully we are as ready for the postseason as we can be.''

The Tigers have a track history of being ready for the postseason. They've won 10 straight regional titles under Blade.

"We look at the regular season as the preparation for the postseason, and hopefully by the time we get to the postseason there is not going to be anything that we haven't seen either through games or through practice,'' Blade said. "It's a long season, so I like to think our kids are mentally tough and prepared for a little bit of a run.''

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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