The cavalry arrived just in time for the Central Cougars on Saturday at the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
A non-factor for the first three quarters because of foul trouble, senior all-state center Kendra Wilken assisted on Cougars sophomore Faye Meissner’s go ahead basket with 23 seconds remaining then blocked a potential game-tying shot with under two seconds remaining as Central edged Salem 51-49 in the title game before a large crowd at Highland High School.
Trailing by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, Salem (20-4) rallied behind the 3-point shooting of junior guard Sydney Geurin, senior center Dearria Watson and a tenacious pressure defense which caused four Central turnovers in the final four minutes.
When Geurin stole the ball at midcourt and fed Maddi Hood for a layup with just under a minute left the game was tied at 49.
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Wilken, who sat out the final 12 minutes of the first half after picking up her second foul and missed time in the third period after picking up her third foul, was fouled with 30 seconds left. The 6-2 Saint Louis University recruit missed the front end of the 1-and-1 but after the rebound bounced long, Wilken dove on the floor and the ball came loose to Meissner who banked in the go-ahead basket.
The Wildcats had two chances to tie the game. The second coming with 1.7 seconds remaining when the ball was inbounded to Watson who had her shot blocked by Wilken as time expired.
“There was contact. Do I think a foul should have been called? If you ask me, I’ll tell you yes. If you ask (Central) I’m sure they’ll say it was a good no-call. It all depends on whose point you are looking at it from,” Salem coach Janet Holst said. “That call didn’t cost us the game. We were 9-of-20 from the foul line. If we make our free throws it doesn’t come down to the last play.”
Instead it was Central, who led by Wilken and the clutch play of senior Grace Yaunches who were the difference in the fourth quarter as the Cougars captured their third title of the prestigious mid-January event in the last four years
But unlike the previous two finals in 2013 and 2014, both convincing wins over Belleville West, this one was much tougher to come by.
Tied at 6 when Wilken picked up her second foul with 4:33 left in the opening quarter, the Cougars didn’t flinch.
Senior Kaylee Schrand scored on an offensive putback and Meissner, continuing to shine, connected on a 3-point jumper to go along with a basket by Yaunches as Central took a 17-12 lead after one quarter.
Yaunches, whose clutch play in big games continued in the second quarter, scored twice on short jumpers, while Schrand, Breanne Jansen and Meissner added baskets for Central which led 27-17 at halftime.
“It goes back to the way its been the last three weeks of having kids step up and make big plays,” Central coach Nathan Rueter said. “Grace (Yaunches) had a very good tournament, I thought Faye (Meissner) had a great tournament, Kaylee (Schrand) has picked up her game recently, Breanne (Jansen) played well and Carly (Albers) did what we asked of her. I also thought Breanna (Beckmann) came in and did a great job on defense against (Dearria) Watson. It was a total team effort.”
Salem, which played the final three quarters without Emily Baer (hand injury) came back twice from 10-point deficits in the second half — was led by Watson with 20 points.
For Central there was plenty of credit to go around. From Meissner’s game-winning shot to Yaunches, who led the attack with 13 points to Wilken who tallied nine of her 11 points in the fourth quarter to Schrand who was the third Cougar in double figures with 10 points.
“We’ve been working hard and we’re getting better. We knew this would be a tough game and it was,” Schrand said. “It means a lot the seniors. After we lost the title game in the Mascoutah Tournament, we really wanted to win this one.”
Triad 59, Belleville West 57
Senior Sophie Thompson hit a 10-foot jumper with under five seconds remaining to cap a late Knights comeback as Triad defeated Belleville West in a thrilling third-place contest.
The Knights (18-3) trailed by four points with under a minute remaining, but got big plays from seniors Abby Burroughs (24 points) and Thompson (21) to pull out the win. Freshman Chamya Darough led Belleville West (14-8) with 19 points, while senior Erika Harvey added 14.
Highland 52, Althoff 40
Slowed by a sluggish start for the third straight game, Highland (19-4) got an emotional lift off the bench from sophomore Rece Portrell and went on to a 12-point win over the Crusaders (7-15) in the fifth-place game.
Senior Amanda Ponce led Highland, ranked seventh in the Class 3A state poll, with 17 points, while Madison Wellen added 13.
Althoff, coming off a six-point loss against Belleville East on Friday, and playing its fifth game in the last seven days, was led by junior Kyleigh Vaught with 21 points.
Teutopolis 41, Taylorville 30
Ranked sixth in the latest Class 2A state poll, the Wooden Shoes completed a successful 3-1 week with an 11-point win over the Tornado.
All-stater Shelby Thompson scored 12 points for Teutopolis (19-6) while Jamie Sandschafer added 10. Mallory Brotheton led Taylorville with nine points.
The most valuable player in the 30th annual event held at Highland High School this week, Wilken headlines the 30th annual Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament Team which was announced following the title game.
Also chosen to the first team were Amanda Ponce of Highland, Sophie Thompson of Triad, Erika Harvey of Belleville West and Dearria Watson of Salem.
Second team selections were Kyleigh Vaught of Althoff, Abby Burroughs of Triad, Grace Yaunches of Central, Maddi Hood of Salem and Shelby Thompson of Teutopolis.