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Edwardsville knocks off Belleville East to win 16th straight regional title

The Edwardsville Tigers celebrate their 64-44 victory over Belleville East Lancers during the Class 4A Quincy Regional girls basketball Championship Game played at Belleville West High School on Thursday.
The Edwardsville Tigers celebrate their 64-44 victory over Belleville East Lancers during the Class 4A Quincy Regional girls basketball Championship Game played at Belleville West High School on Thursday.

Their names and faces may change from year to year, but the Edwardsville Tigers keep winning titles. Just ask the Belleville East Lancers.

Freshman Sydney Harris led a balanced attack with 17 points and the Edwardsville defense held the high-powered Lancers offense in check throughout as the Tigers scored a 64-44 win Thursday in the title game of the Class 4A Quincy Regional Basketball Tournament.

With the 6-foot Harris and senior Morgan Hulme combining for 10 first quarter points, Edwardsville (29-2) raced out to a quick lead. Belleville East (20-13) would never get even as with seniors Jaylen Townsend and Madelyn Stephen combining to chip in 23 points, the Tigers broke the game open early in the fourth quarter as they captured their 16th straight regional title.

“This is such a great basketball program. It’s so great to be part of it,’’ said the 17-year-old Townsend, who was only 1 when the Tigers began their regional title streak. “I felt like we had (scoring) runs but we never let East have one tonight. ‘’

Ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, Edwardsville advances to the Normal West Sectional on Monday beginning at 7 p.m. The Tigers will take on the winner of the O’Fallon Regional. Second-seeded O’Fallon will take on third-seeded Springfield in the title game on Friday.

For Edwardsville coach Lori Blade, winning regional championships never gets old. Having to replace several key players, including all-staters Rachel Pranger and Katie Martin from a team which placed fourth in the Class 4A state tournament a year ago, the Tigers didn’t miss a beat as they raced through an undefeated Southwestern Conference season.

On Thursday the Tigers handled a very good Belleville East team for the third time this year.

“We got some boards, got good penetration and hit some 3’s. It was everybody. It was a team effort,’’ a smiling Blade said. “Playing in our (Southwestern) conference and then having to play a very good Belleville East team, that’s tough. For what they (East) have been through, they had a great season. But now it’s about our kids.’’

Belleville East, which was led by junior Bria James’ 11 points, picked the worst time to have an off shooting night. With Kaylah Rainey far less than 100 percent after coming back from open heart surgery in November and seniors Bryce Dowell and B’Aunce Carter combing for only 13 points, the Lancers never led.

East also missed at least 10-12 layups, most of which came in the second half.

“It was frustrating that we missed some easy shots,’’ a dejected Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said. “We would try to get a run going and we’d miss a shot or have a foul called.

“They did a good job on Bryce (Dowell). We knew it was coming, but we just couldn’t shake her loose for good shots. And when you put a team that is shooting 90 percent from the foul line there as much as we did, that’s just asking for trouble.’’

East trailed 23-16 at halftime, but Carter scored on the Lancers’ first possession of the third quarter to cut the lead to five. The Lancers, however would get no closer.

“I thought the first four minutes of the second half was the turning point,’’ Blade said. “We knew B’Aunce would come out super aggressive, but we got a couple of stops and she picked up, I think, two fouls. That was a big part of the game.”

With Stephen connecting on a pair of 3-point shots, Edwardsville extended its lead to 37-27 after three quarters then made free throws to put the game away.

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.
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