Volleyball may still be the No. 1 sport for Belleville West sophomore Kaylee Hanger. But on Tuesday against the Class 3A state ranked Highland Bulldogs, Hanger seemed right at home on the basketball court. Or more specifically, the free throw line.
Playing in the biggest game of her career, Hanger scored a career high 15 points — and made seven of eight from the free throw line in the final two minutes — as Belleville West stunned Highland 47-41 in the quarterfinals of the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
Still playing on a gimpy ankle injured in the Mascoutah Invitational last month, senior Erika Harvey added 14 points for West (14-6) which answered every threat by Highland (17-4) down the stretch.
The Maroons were 14 of 16 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter after attempting just two free throws in the first three quarters.
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And it was the 5-foot-8 Hanger, who is still playing club volleyball during the basketball season, who came through the most.
“Was I nervous? We practice free throws all the time. I knew if I concentrated that I could make them. I’m just glad they went in,” Hanger said. “This is a big win for us.”
The defending tournament champion Maroons advance to the semifinals on Thursday where they will take on either Hillsboro or Salem at 8 p.m. The Salem-Hillsboro game had not ended at press time.
Central will battle Triad in the other semifinal at 8 p.m. on Wednesday with the two winners advancing to the title game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
For West first-year coach Seth Garrett the win is the biggest of the season. Highland, which saw its 14-game winning streak snapped, was ranked ninth in the latest Class 3A state poll.
“We’ve been close a couple of times in big games, but we hadn’t been able to get over the hump. We had been waiting to get a win like this and beating a very good Highland team on their home court in their tournament. This is a big win,” Garrett said. “This is actually Kaylee (Hanger’s) first season of basketball since she played volleyball last year. She’s still playing but we’re working with her on that.
“Defensively, we moved our forwards out in the zone defense and we did a good job against their shooters and Erika (Harvey) still has the injured ankle. But the leadership she continues to show is very impressive. She hurt it again tonight but she didn’t even look at me because she didn’t want to come out. That’s the type of kid she is.”
Highland, getting eight points from Hayley Taylor, led 16-14 at halftime and stretched the lead to six points early in the second half on four points from senior Amanda Ponce. But West, getting a 3-point basket from Chanya Darough and a basket each from four other players, managed to tie the game at 25 after three periods.
Ponce, who had four 3-point field goals and led Highland with 14 points, nailed her final shot from beyond the 3-point line to start the fourth quarter.
But Hanger and Harvey gave a sign of things to come when they nailed 3-point shots and when sophomore Sydney Thurwalker hit two free throws with just over four minutes left, West had the lead for good.
“Give West credit. They did a great of extending their 2-3 zone and defending our shooters. We only had three points in the second quarter and that really was the key in the game,” Bulldogs coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “We had good looks at the basket and we just didn’t knock them down. It goes that way some nights.”
But not for Hanger who calmly stepped up in the final quarter.
Hanger had 10 of her 15 points in the fourth quarter. But credit must also go to the Maroons defense.
“We were stuck on 11 points for a month in the second quarter. I don’t know if we were trying to match the temperature outside or what,” Garrett said. “We were down 2 at half but we felt good. Our defense was outstanding all night.’’
Taylorville 51, Nokomis 33
Tayolorville senior center Makala Finks led a balanced scoring attack with 12 points as the Tornado (6-13) ran past the Indians in consolation round play. Sophomore guard Taylor Lohman scored 11 points for Nokomis (8-11).
Nashville 35, Wesclin 31
MacKenzie McFeron scored 13 points and provided what spark the Hornettes (14-6) could muster as Nashville survived a scare from the pesky Warriors for a consolation round win. Wesclin (8-13) managed to stay close thanks in part to the play of Mayghen Mugele.
Mugele led Wesclin with nine points.
Nashville will take on Taylorville in the consolation semifinals at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in one consolation bracket semifinal, while Mater Dei will battle Class 2A state power Teutopolis beginning at 5 p.m.