Carriel, Fulton junior high basketball teams make history
February was a hotbed of hoops for O’Fallon District 90.
Having one team advance to the state finals in any sport does not happen very often — no matter what the level. However, through a combination of inspired play and geography, the two O’Fallon junior high schools found themselves matched up in the semi-finals of the Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association (SIJHSAA) Class L state basketball tournament.
The Carriel Cougars survived a scare to squeeze past the Fulton Panthers 44-41 and eventually claim the state championship trophy by defeating West Junior High from Belleville 57-49. Fulton dropped a 57-42 decision to Centralia to finish in fourth place, but the showdown between the two O’Fallon schools was historic, marking the first time that both local junior high teams had qualified for the state finals in the same year.
“It was a really neat experience,” said Carriel coach Chris Hursey. “We left O’Fallon early in order to root for Fulton in the third-place game, and a lot of their fans and players stayed to cheer on our team in the state title game against Belleville.”
The circumstances that brought the two O’Fallon schools to their unique face-off began when the SIJHSAA announced the pairings for the eight regional tournaments. With the addition of several schools to the organization this year, including Whiteside, Belleville Valley and West Junior High, the SIJHSAA sent Fulton to a north regional and placed Carriel with schools south of O’Fallon. Fulton and Carriel steamrolled through their regional games to earn a berth in the state finals held at Rend Lake Junior College.
A victory by Fulton over Herrin (52-39) and a win by Carriel against Marion (72-35) brought the schools to the court for the fourth time during the 2016-17 hoops campaign. Prior to their semi-final contest, Carriel had dominated the three previous encounters, winning each game by 15-plus points, a statistic that was a cause for concern for Carriel coach Hursey.
“To be honest, I was more than a little apprehensive,” Hursey said. “It’s always extremely difficult to beat a good team three times in a season, and now we were going to have to win a fourth game to advance to the state title game. I told our players that they were going to have to bear down even harder to get past Fulton this time, and my prediction came true.
“Fulton played a heck of a game against us. We made several adjustments defensively to try to contain their point guard, Drew Tebbe, but were not very successful. He found ways to penetrate our perimeter defense, keeping them within a couple of points into the fourth quarter.”
Behind the scoring tandem of Kaden Joggerst and Shaun Riley, Carriel was able to extend their precarious lead to 41-38 with two minutes left in the final stanza.
“Our kids were super,” said Fulton coach Britt Booker. “Everyone did his part to put a scare into the Cougars. Tebbe and 6-3 Jalen Watson came through in the clutch, putting pressure on the Carriel defense with consistent scoring on the perimeter and in the post. Finally, they put together a spurt that sealed the victory, but it was a tremendous effort by our players. They nearly pulled off the upset.”
Joggerst finished the game with 22 points, and Riley added 10 along with a bushel of rebounds. The two scoring leaders switched roles in the championship game with Riley hitting for 24 and Joggerst, 13. The Carriel scoring duo accounted for 37 of the team’s 57 in the Cougars’ 57-49 victory and ended Belleville West Junior High’s state title run.
Carriel finished the year 27-2, and Fulton finished the year 21-8.