It took three quarters, but New Athens finally found some offensive continuity Wednesday.
The third-seeded Yellow Jackets used an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 50-32 victory over fifth-seeded Metro-East Lutheran in the semifinals of the Class 1A Lebanon Regional. New Athens advanced despite 21 turnovers.
“It was like pulling teeth all night,” Yellow Jackets coach Erik Hager said. “They did a good job, but we forced things, we rushed some shots. Finally in the fourth quarter, we were able to do things we talked about. We wanted to move the ball and get some easy look. We finally were able to do that. We knocked down some a few shots and got some confidence.”
New Athens (22-5) will play second-seeded Lebanon (24-3) in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Greyhounds have beaten the Yellow Jackets three times this season, twice holding them to 34 points and limiting them to 33 in the other game.
“Now we get another shot at Lebanon,” Hager said. “We’re going to come in loose. We’re going to work our tails off and try to give them the best game we can. That’s all we can do. We know Lebanon’s a great team and Chad (Cruthis) is a great coach. Obviously, we know each other very well. We’ll come in, have fun, play our game and get after it.”
Senior Abby Marlow and junior Jordan Drake each had 10 points to lead New Athens. Sophomore Courtney Ragland had nine, while senior Alina Lance and junior Sophie Cooper had seven apiece.
Metro-East Lutheran (14-13) received a game-best 15 points off the bench from freshman Ellen Schulte. Senior Karly Schley had 10 points.
“Offensively, we did what we wanted to do most of the game,” said Knights coach Rob Stock, whose team was outscored 20-7 in the fourth quarter. “For three quarters, we were making shots. In the first three quarters, we probably could have picked up a couple of more layups that we missed, which could have maybe changed the momentum a little bit.”
“But in that fourth quarter, everything just dried up for us. We continued to get shots we wanted, but they just didn’t go in.”
The Knights trailed just 20-27 when junior Abby Yurchuk opened the fourth quarter with a layup. That’s when the Yellow Jackets went to work.
Drake began the 11-0 run with a basket that made it 32-27 at the 7:25 mark. Ragland followed with another basket, then added two free throws to make it 36-27. Drake scored again to make it 38-27 before Marlow drilled a 3-pointer that made it 41-27 with 4:16 to play. New Athens was no closer than 11 in the final 1:44.
By the numbers
Metro-East Lutheran also had trouble with turnovers, committing 12 of its 17 in the first half. The Knights shot 26 percent (11-for-43) and were 8-for-17 from the free-throw line.
The Yellow Jackets shot 32 percent (15-for-47) and were 16-for-22 from the line.
Madison forfeits to Lebanon
In the other semifinal Wednesday, Lebanon was awarded a 2-0 forfeit victory over Madison
Cruthis, who also is Lebanon’s athletics director, said Madison Superintendent Evelyn Kelly postponed all after-school activities at 8 a.m. Wednesday because of weather-related concerns.
Cruthis said the Illinois High School Association determined Wednesday afternoon that the weather shouldn’t prevent Madison from making the trip, and it suggested the school play the game. Madison instead opted to forfeit.
“I don’t get it,” Cruthis said. “I feel bad for their girls and I feel bad for our girls. If there were other schools around us closing and not doing things, I understand. But when nobody else is, it’s kind of hard to say it was a good choice.”
Cruthis said the Lebanon-Madison game could have been rescheduled for Thursday night, but he noted that it would put Lebanon in a difficult situation because if it won, it then would have to play the championship game just 24 hours later instead of having a one-day break to rest and prepare.
Cruthis also explained that it would have been difficult to justify rescheduling the game considering New Athens and Metro-East Lutheran were able to play their game Wednesday.
Another factor, Cruthis noted, was the Lebanon boys basketball team will be playing the second half of its suspended home game against Marissa on Thursday. The first half of that game was played Jan. 26, but a power outage forced the second half to be suspended.