CAHOKIA — Not only did the Columbia Eagles repeat as regional championss, they did it with a dramatically different squad than last year.
Sophomore Cheyenne Newland came off the bench to score a team-high 20 points as the second-seeded Eagles beat the top-seeded Althoff Crusaders 56-40 Thursday in the championship game of the Class 3A Cahokia Girls Basketball Regional.
"We're very young this year, and to be able to do this is just amazing,'' Newland said.
The Eagles (16-10) lost five seniors, including four starters, from last year's team to graduation.
"We're happy to be where we are at,'' Columbia coach Scott Germain said. "It just goes to show that our girls have worked hard in the offseason and battled throughout the season to give themselves the opportunity.''
The Eagles (16-10) advance to the Class 3A Carbondale Sectional. They'll play the Carbondale Terriers(20-8) at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The Terriers, behind McKena Miller's 27 points, beat the Herrin Tigers 67-59 on Thursday in the championship game of the Massac County Regional.
Columbia also got nine points from Kalli Farmer, eight points from Kaylee Bastien and six points from Danielle Sellers.
The Eagles won despite committing 32 turnovers.
"They want you to play helter-skelter, and they did a great job,'' Germain said of the Crusaders. "I give credit to their girls because we were having a difficult time getting set up into our offense just because of the way they like to pressure you.
"Once we started to figure it out and get into our half-court set, things started to go our way.''
Newland scored 12 of her points in the first half to keep the Eagles in contention until they settled down.
"She's only a sophomore and she's shown signs of doing excellent things for us,'' Germain said. "We were happy with the way she was playing, so we didn't want to take her out.''
Newland said the Crusaders' defense was fronting her, and they allowed her to get to the basket for layups.
"I love when they front me because they didn't help help-side,'' Newland said. "We practice that every day. Coach makes us do that just so we can have it for games like this. After practicing that so much, we have our moves down and we can finish under the basket.''
The Eagles led 24-22 at halftime thanks to a basket in the final minute of the second quarter by Catherine Barton.
With the score tied at 24-24, the Eagles went on a 10-0 run that was highighted by two baskets from Newland to go up 34-24.
The Crusaders fought back to tie the score at 34-34 on a three-point play by Anna Hanger with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles scored seven unanswered points at the free-throw line -- senior Samantha Floarke accounted for four of them -- in going up 41-34 with 5:09 to go.
The Crusaders got within 42-39 on a 3-pointer by Hanger with 4:32 left, but they'd only score one point the rest of the way.
The Eagles went 12-for-16 at the free-throw line over the final 1:58 to secure the victory.
"I think going in we knew we had a really young team and we really need to work hard, and I think all year that's what we've done,'' Eagles junior guard Taryn Pena said. "We've worked on our strengths, and everybody knows their role on the team. We all just put it together.''
The Crusaders had a bad shooting night, especially from long range. They were 2-for-22 on 3-point attempts.
"This is one of the worst shooting games that we've had in the last several games,'' Althoff coach Todd Hill said. "We're really been shooting the ball pretty well, and tonight we had so many rim out and so many missed layups.
"We were just a little bit out of kilter all night.''
The Crusaders got eight points from freshmen Rachel Collins and Kyliegh Vaught, seven points from Hanger and six points from Rachel Kaltwasser and freshman Maggie Reimer.
The Crusaders will lose only one senior -- Kaltwasser -- to graduation.
"We wanted to get this one for her and have her go out with that,'' Hill said of Kaltwasser. "She's worked hard her four years at Althoff, and she wasn't feeling the best this whole week, but she fought through it.
"As freshman, at least some of these girls got to play in this championship game, so they understand what it takes.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.