BELLEVILLE — Longtime rivals Althoff and Cahokia have staged many epic battles in their battle for supremacy in the South Seven Conference over the years.
But if ESPN had a high school category for instant high school boys basketball classics, Cahokia's 59-57 win in the title game of the Class 3A Althoff Regional on Friday would be at the head of the list.
Senior Darius Austin scored 24 points and two other Comanches were in double figures to lead the way as the '13 Class 3A state tournament runner-up held off a furious comeback in dramatic style.
It wasn't until when Althoff sophomore Keenen Young's potential game-tying layup rolled off the rim as the final horn sounded that the Comanches could start to celebrate.
Meanwhile, Althoff players, who trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half only to stage a memorable rally, fell to the floor in disbelief.
"We've had many memorable games with them (Althoff), but tonight might have been the best. Even though we were up, I think we knew they would make a run,'' a relieved Comanches coach Darian Nash said. "We didn't handle it very well down the stretch against their pressure and we need to work on some things, but we survived tonight.
"We're moving on. This was a great high school basketball game.''
The win moves Cahokia (22-8) into the Highland Sectional on Tuesday at 7 p.m. when they will take on another South Seven Conference rival Centralia (25-4).
The Orphans defeated Olney East Richland 48-34 in the title game of the Salem Regional on Friday.
While Nash and the Comanches were relieved, Althoff coach Greg Leib and his Crusaders were heartbroken. Trailing 45-33 late in the third quarter following the second of consecutive 3-point baskets by Comanches Montez Crumble late in the third quarter, the Crusaders rallied behind the brilliance of freshman Jordan Goodwin.
Held to 11 points through three quarters, Goodwin tallied 11 in the fourth period. Sophomore Brendon Gooch added eight point and when he nailed his second 3-point basket of the period with 14.1 seconds remaining, Althoff was within 58-57.
Barely avoiding a second straight turnover against the Althoff pressure, the Comanches inbounded the ball to senior Carleton Rivers who was fouled with 8.7 seconds remaining.
Rivers made the first free throw to stretch the Comanches lead to 59-57 but missed the second. Young got the ball and dashed up the court. Splitting the Comanches defense perfectly, Young drove the lane and gently laid the ball up only to see it roll of the rim.
Following the shot, Young stood under the basket in disbelief.
"Sometimes when you lay your heart on the line, you're going to get it stomped on. That's what happened to us tonight,'' an emotional Leib said. "Keenen did a great job of getting between the defense. It was a shot he hit before and one he'll hit again. Tonight it didn't go in. That happens sometimes.
"It was a great high school basketball game. If we had another 30 seconds or a minute, it might have been a different outcome. But I'm proud of my basketball team and I love these kids. They gave everything they had."
Austin led all scorers with his 24 points while Rivers added 14 and Crumble chipped in with 12. One of the top players in the state, Austin was brilliant in the fourth quarter. The 6-7 guard scored nine of the Comanches points in the period and simply took over the game when he needed too.
"I had to. We were struggling a little bit. I'm a senior and I did what I'm supposed to do. I stepped up when my team needed me,'' Austin said. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. They kept coming back. I'm just glad we were able to hang on in the end."
Gooch added 18 points for Althoff.