There's always a little extra heat when two intra-city rivals meet just a couple weeks before post-season seeding begins.
But Belleville East girls basketball coach Amanda Kemezys and Althoff coach Nick Knolhoff carried the added burden of bragging rights with them onto the Crusaders' court Friday night. Both are teachers at Wolf Branch Middle School in Swansea and have been tugging at their students' loyalties for weeks leading up to the game.
With some of those students and other faculty members in the bleachers, Kemezys' Lancers outlasted Knolhoff and the Crusaders, 52-46.
"The girls were up for this game," said Knolhoff, who's in his first season at Althoff. "They knew what was at stake with two Wolf Branch coaches going at it."
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Morgan St. James was a beast tonight. She came out and played like a senior. She had a nose for the ball and looked like she was a step ahead of the other girls all night.
Amanda Kemezys, Belleville East head coach
The difference was East's athleticism, especially under Althoff's goal. Senior center Morgan St. James scored 23 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in a game whose outcome was still doubt into the final minute.
"Morgan St. James was a beast tonight," said Kemezys. "She came out and played like a senior. She had a nose for the ball and looked like she was a step ahead of the other girls all night. Athleticism is our go-to. We definitely try to use that, all the girls."
Many of St. James' points came either on second attempts or the free throw line, where the Lancers as a team shot 16-of-29.
"Really what hurt us was the offensive rebounding and their athleticism underneath," said Knolhoff. "We'd get the initial stop, then give them an easy put back. Then they made their free throws from those put-backs as well."
With its fifth win in a row, East improved to 14-6. The Lancers next face a key Southwestern Conference game with state-ranked Edwardsville. Althoff fell to 7-15, but entered the game having won five of its last six, including victories over O'Fallon and state-ranked Teutopolis.
The Lancers built a 13-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Althoff took control of the game's tempo. Emily Myatt scored eight points and Kyleigh Vaught drained a pair of 3-pointers during a 10-2 run that put the Crusaders ahead at halftime, 23-19.
Really what hurt us was the offensive rebounding and their athleticism underneath. We'd get the initial stop, then give them an easy put back.
Nick Knolhoff, Althoff head coach
East responded with an 11-2 run to open the second half to regain the lead, but another 3-pointer from Vaught — her fourth of five on the night — tied the game at 36 with just under seven minutes left.
St. James scored the next five points for East and Althoff never completely closed the gap.
Vaught, a junior who scored her 1,000th career point earlier in the week, scored a game-high 24.
"Obviously, No. 11 was ready to play tonight," Knolhoff said. "Having that shooting threat keeps us in games."
Myriah Haywood joined St. James in double figures with 10 for East.
"It was a good team win for us," said Kemezys. "When you can have a team that's not only talented, but is not selfish and will play for each other, that's when a team is special. I think we're approaching that."