BELLEVILLE — Cameron Hunter wasn't quite ready to see his career come to an end.
The Belleville East senior turned in his best performance of the season Friday night as he scored 25 points to carry the second-seeded Lancers to a 60-54 victory over top-seeded O'Fallon in the championship game of the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
"My teammates looked at me tonight; they normally look at me, but today I was wide-open because (the Panthers) were so busy trying to get on our guards," said the 6-foot-4 Hunter, who made his first six shots and finished 9-for-12 from the field.
"We did a lot of things today," he said. "We rebounded well and our guards stepped up. Everything was on the line. We're real excited and happy. We'll see how far we can get."
The Lancers (20-9) will play Edwardsville (27-2) in the East Moline United Sectional on Tuesday at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Vadalabene Center. The game time has not yet been determined.
Edwardsville won its two previous meetings against the Lancers: 46-42 in Belleville and 57-36 in Edwardsville.
Hunter was subdued by the Panthers in their 56-51 victory Feb. 14 at East, scoring just six points. But he doubled that output in the first half Friday as the Lancers led 24-21 at the break.
"We found him," Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. "He finished strong, he finished aggressive. That's a big game for Cameron in a big-time atmosphere --a regional championship. He stepped up and played really well as a senior."
Senior Darreon Reddick added 13 points for East and senior Austin Cross had 10. The Lancers were 24-for-32 on free throws.
East overcame a 31-point outburst by O'Fallon junior Donovan Franklin, who had 21 in the second half. Sophomore Chance Armstrong had 11 for the Panthers (16-13), whose 2-3 zone wasn't as effective as it was in the Feb. 14 game at East.
"Hunter was good tonight --really good," O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson said. "That's a good example of a senior that doesn't want his season to end. The first couple of times we played them, we held him in check really well and he didn't really hurt us. But tonight, you could tell he was a different player."
O'Fallon never led until Armstrong's layup made it 27-26 with 4:38 to play in the third quarter. The lead changed hands four more times in the period, the last coming when Reddick drove the right side of the lane for a layup that beat the buzzer and gave East a 37-35 lead.
The Lancers then opened the fourth quarter by scoring six consecutive points to build a 43-35 lead. The 8-0 run was culminated by Cox's putback of a missed shot by Hunter.
East's lead reached 45-36 on Hunter's layup on a feed from Cox with 4:58 to play. That's when O'Fallon caught fire, and a 3-pointer from the left wing by junior Darien McClain off a Lancers turnover got the Panthers within 45-42 with 3:19 left.
Schrader quickly called timeout.
"We came down and had a turnover on a careless pass --for no reason --with a six-point lead," Schrader said. "We just had to run offense. We were getting decent looks. We had to keep attacking. You can't play this type of game to lose; you've got to play it to win."
Gibson said the Panthers had good vibes after McClain's 3. He reminded his players that they overcame greater odds in their overtime victory over Collinsville in the semifinals Wednesday, a game in which they trailed by five with less than a minute to play in regulation.
"That was big," Gibson of McClain's shot. "We kept trying to preach to our kids to believe. They were living proof of it a couple of days ago. It just didn't work out for us tonight."
East answered McClain's 3-pointer with an 8-1 run that put it ahead 55-45 with a minute to play. The Lancers were 17-for-23 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, with freshman Rico Sylvester going 6-for-6. The Lancers shot 45 percent from the field (18-for-40).
O'Fallon shot 43 percent (21-for-49) and was 9-for-15 from the line.
"When you come into the regional and you have five teams that honestly could win this, you don't know," Schrader said. "We're very excited about this. We have a big game Tuesday night against Edwardsville. We'll have to do some work in practice and we'll see."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.