Belleville East junior Kaylah Rainey was on the bench with an injured ankle Nov. 30 when O’Fallon edged the Lancers by a point.
Still less than 100 percent, she was held on the bench for most of the first half of the rematch to replenish from a stretch of three games in four days.
But the all-state guard made the most of her minutes, scoring 11 of her team-high 12 points in East’s 54-46 win Friday on O’Fallon’s court.
Her first field goal, a 3-pointer, sparked a run that turned a two-point half-time deficit into a 10-point lead.
“She motivates us all the time when she’s on the court,” said junior Bryce Dowell, who scored 10 points off the bench for East. “She sees us and knows when to pass the ball and when to take it for herself. She brings us up.”
The win was a big one for the Lancers. Their loss to O’Fallon in the teams’ first meeting was their fourth in five games and preceded a Southwestern Conference loss to last season’s Illinois Class 4A runner-up and still-unbeaten Edwardsville.
East has since won four in a row, all within the last seven days. Those include handing East St. Louis its only loss of the season, another SWC win over Belleville West, and Thursday’s city championship triumph over Althoff.
The Lancers improved to 6-5 overall and 4-2 in conference play. They’ve improved on a pace with Rainey’s ankle and, likewise, should continue getting stronger.
“We were looking back to two weeks ago from the last time we played them,” said East coach Amanda Kemezys. “Obviously it helps to have Kaylah back, but I think our mental game and effort is a lot better right now.
“We had some shots fall and a couple things go our way. Mostly, though, we grinded it out and played hard. I’m proud of that.”
The loss to East on Friday was O’Fallon’s first of the season. The Panthers played without 6-1 junior Izzy Akoro, who will have an MRI next week on a suspected ACL tear. Jayla Stubblefield went down with less than two minutes left Friday and had to be helped off the floor. Her condition is unknown.
First-year O’Fallon coach Nick Knolhoff acknowledged that the loss was a tough one for his team, as are any at the top of the SWC. Otherwise, he had no issues with his team’s performance.
The Panthers held East’s top scorer, junior B’Aunce, to just four points. They also pinned Rainey down for three quarters.
“I thought we actually played really well. Our game plan was to shut down B’Aunce and I think she finished with four points,” Knollhoff said. “Kaylah Rainey was just the difference-maker there in the third quarter. They made adjustments to get the ball in her hands and we didn’t have an answer for that.”
The Panthers outscored the Lancers 13-4 in the second quarter — sparked by Sydney Thurwalker’s six points — to take a two-point halftime lead.
But Rainey owned the third quarter. Her final points of the quarter came at the buzzer when she faked a pass to the outside and drove the lane without challenge for an easy layup. It put East on top by 10 and in command.
Jailyn McClenny also reached double figures for East with 11 points, nine of which were scored in the first half. Brittney Nitz scored nine on 3-point baskets.
Thurwalker led the Panthers with 14 points, six from the free-throw line. O’Fallon sophomore Makayla Best scored 10, including a pair of 3-pointers early in the first quarter.
O’Fallon (8-1, 4-1 SWC) next plays at Belleville West on Monday. East will be home Monday against Alton.