HIGHLAND — Playing close games in the post season is nothing new to the Cahokia Comanches.
And either is winning them.
Senior guard Carleton Rivers scored 11 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to spark a 23-7 Comanches scoring run over the final 7:37 as Cahokia rallied for a 54-45 win over Centralia on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 3A Highland Sectional.
Beaten twice by Cahokia during the regular season, Centralia (25-5) led 38-31 following the sixth 3-point basket of the night by senior Jerod Simmons-Young to start the fourth quarter.
But the 2013 Class 3A state tournament runner-up Comanches didn't panic.
When Rivers hit a 3-point shot with 3:35 remaining, Cahokia had the lead for good and were on to their was to the sectional title game.
"I wasn't worried when we were down by seven. We just needed to pick our game up and hit some shots,'' Rivers said. "We had been in close games before and come back. We just needed to do it again."
Darius Austin followed with a conventional 3-point play 18 seconds later to increase the Cahokia lead to 47-41. The Orphans would get no closer then three points the rest of the way.
"What was the difference in the fourth quarter? Defense. We picked up the defense and put more defensive pressure on them. Defense wins championships,'' Cahokia coach Darian Nash said. "I also think our experience was a key for us. These kids have played in a lot of big games over the past couple of years. We held our poise, created some turnovers and hit some shots in the fourth quarter."
The win moves Cahokia (25-9) into the sectional final at 7 p.m. Friday where it will play the winner of the other semifinal between Marion and Alton Marquette. The Marion-Marquette game is on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
For Centralia coach Lee Bennett the loss was tough to take after he saw his team seemingly take control of the game with a solid third quarter and Simmons-Young 3-point basket to start the final period.
But missed shots down the stretch and six fourth quarter turnovers proved costly.
"We didn't do a very good job of handling the ball down the stretch. Some of the mistakes were forced but we had a couple that were just careless errors,'' Bennett said. "But to win a game like this you've got to have some things go your way and they did for Cahokia. They banked in a 3-point shot and they hit a couple of shots after scrambles on the baseline."
Looking for a little payback after dropping a pair of close games to their South Seven Conference rivals, the Orphans rode the red-hot shooting touch of Simmons Young in the first half.
The 6-1 guard hit five straight 3-point shots and scored 19 of the Orphans 24 points. Centralia led for much of the second quarter but when Austin buried a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer, the score was tied at 24.
Junior guard Ryan Obermeier scored five points in the third quarter as Centralia took a 35-31 lead.
Simmons-Young, who led all scorers with 27 points, then increased the lead to 38-31 but Cahokia bounced back.
Rivers hit a short jumper and when junior Montez Crumble scored with 5:05 left, the score was tied at 41.
Forced to foul late, the Orphans watched helplessly as Cahokia made enough free throws to put the game away.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com