CAHOKIA — The maturity the young Althoff Crusaders gained during the regular season showed in their first postseason game.
Freshman Kyleigh Vaught scored 23 points, including four free throws in the final minute, as the Crusaders held off the Mascoutah Indians 60-57 Tuesday in the Class 3A Cahokia Girls Basketball Regional.
"We talked all year about having kids, and they are really growing up and stepping up and making plays for us," said Althoff coach Todd Hill, who has three freshman and a sophomore in his starting lineup. "Some of our freshman made some big plays tonight."
The Indians trailed by 13 points after back-to-back baskets from Althoff freshman Maggie Reimer. They closed within three points thanks to an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, but then fell back by eight points.
The Indians trimmed their deficit to 55-51 on a basket by Megan Lindsay with 45 seconds to go.
Vaught went 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, but then Indians got 3-pointers from Brittney Zipfel and Maddie Nekola to draw within 59-57 with 15 seconds to go.
"You expect that, it's playoff time and you know that nobody wants to go home, nobody wants to be done," Hill said of the Indians' comeback. "I give them credit, man. They played their butts off."
After receiving a long inbounds pass, Althoff sophomore Rachel Mertens was fouled with 5.1 seconds on the clock. She missed the first, but made the second of her two free-throw attempts to give the Crusaders a three-point cushion.
The Indians got the ball quickly to Zipfel, whose 3-pointer from the wing rimmed out at the buzzer.
"We got the look that we wanted with the person we wanted to shoot it in that situation," Mascoutah coach Terry Moeller said. "There were a couple of points in the game where our girls could have said, 'Well, it's softball time, it's track time or whatever. They fought hard, and they played hard. I'm proud of their effort tonight."
The top-seeded Crusaders (11-12) advance to play the second-seeded Columbia Eagles (15-10) at 7 p.m. Thursday in the championship game of the Class 3A Cahokia Regional.
The Crusaders also got 16 points from Reimer and 12 points from Rachel Kaltwasser.
The Indians ended their season at 12-16. They were paced by Zipfel, a senior, with 20 points.
Nekola, a sophomore, added 18 points.
"We're pretty young, we're playing four sophomores a lot of times," Moeller said. "I'm especially proud of our senior group, but I'm also very encouraged about the young group that we have coming back. It's going to be a two-year run with that group. I'm looking forward to that."
The Indians led only once -- 5-3 in the early going -- of the game.
The Crusasder were 8-for-13 shooting in the first quarter as they grabbed a 23-14 lead. They maintained a 36-27 advantage at halftime.
"We made them chase us all game," Hill said. 'We had the lead the whole game, and they were always trying to get uphill. It makes it a different game when somebody has to chase you."
Columbia 49, Cahokia 48
Sophomore Kalli Farmer missed the first, but sank the second of her two free throws with 5.3 seconds left and senior Olivia Brower intercepted a pass with three seconds left as the Columbia Eagles edged the Cahokia Comanches.
"We have confidence in Kalli," Colunbia coach Scott Germain said. "She's been out for several weeks, so that's about all she has been able to do -- shoot free throws. I think she was really confident in herself to knock that second one down."
Germain said Farmer returned last week after missing three weeks due to a high ankle sprain.
The Eagles were down 48-46 after Lashonda Brewer's rebound basket with 1:42 remaining.
The two teams traded turnovers before Eagles junior Kaylee Bastien drove into the lane and hit a short jumper to tie the score at 48-48 with 1:12 left.
Cahokia's J'Ava Brock was tripped up and lost the ball as she drove into the lane with 29 seconds left.
Cahokia coach Fred Dancy was upset that no foul was called on the play, especially since the Comanches were whistled for the foul against Farmer just 24 seconds later.
"It was the same play," Dancy said. "That's what I told them. She got tripped the same exact way. That gives them an opportunity to win, and it takes it away from us. That's what happened in that game right there, very simple."
The Comanches inbounded the ball to Brock, who took a couple of dribbles and then tried to pass the ball up court.
"We had two fouls to give, so we were telling the girls to foul when they were not in the act (of shooting)," Germain said. "I was yelling, 'Foul, foul, foul,' and then I saw the ball in the air and it landed right in Olivia's hands."
Bastien, Cheyanne Newland and Danielle Sellers all had 10 points for the Eagles. Farmer finished with eight points.
The 6-foot-2 Brewer led all scorers with 22 points, while Dominique Jennings chipped in nine points for the Comanches, whose final record of 4-18 fails to show how competitive they actually were.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.