Belleville East leaned on its youth Tuesday, and it delivered.
Sophomore guard Bryce Dowell scored a team-high 16 points and made two important 3-pointers in the second half to spark the fourth-seeded Lancers to a 51-39 victory over sixth-seeded Belleville West in the semifinals of the Class 4A Collinsville Regional.
“I was wide-open, and I knew I could hit (them),” Dowell said of her 3-pointers. “I knew we needed them. I felt like I had it in me. Confidence.”
The Lancers (20-9) will face Edwardsville (27-0) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Tigers defeated the Lancers 66-29 and 64-36 in the regular season.
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“Edwardsville is a team that exposes every mistake you have,” East coach Amanda Kemezys said. “We’re going to try to limit our mistakes. I know our girls are hungry and excited to get that opportunity. This is what you work for; this is why you play. We’ll be ready for it.”
Dowell’s first 3-pointer came just ahead of the buzzer ending the third quarter, and it culminated a 7-0 uprising that gave the Lancers a 39-32 lead. Her second 3-pointer put East ahead 47-37 with 5:40 left in the game, and it followed a 3-pointer by junior Jailyn McClenny that was equally damaging to the Maroons.
“The second half, (Dowell) was great for us,” Kemezys said. “The coaches kind of got on her at the beginning because of some decision-making. But she’s such a coachable kid. To see her come out and kind of carry us in the second half ... I’m proud of the way she stepped up.”
McClenny finished with 12 points, while sophomore Kaylah Rainey had 13 points despite exiting the game in the second half with a leg injury.
West (18-12) got a game-high 17 points from sophomore B’Aunce Carter. The Maroons fell behind 15-1 in the first quarter before knotting the game at 32 with 3:25 to play in the third quarter. That’s when the Lancers closed the period with seven consecutive points.
“We came out of the locker room, and for whatever reason, we were sluggish,” Maroons coach Seth Garrett said. “In anticipation of that, I wanted to play man (defense) to get our juices flowing. I was afraid to come out in a zone and stand around.
“But we couldn’t get back on defense. It didn’t matter what defense we were in at that point in time. (East) was playing so much faster than us and getting down the floor so fast.”
Garrett sensed fatigue was a factor for the Maroons, who had to work overtime in the first round Monday to defeat Granite City 54-48. Also, he said juniors Kaylee Hanger and Sydney Thurwalker were ill and unable to play up to their usual standards.
“It was such a tough battle (Monday) night that we weren’t playing with a full tank tonight. There’s no doubt about it,” Garrett said.