Teams from the Southwestern Conference have endured the rigors of the regular season only to meet again in the playoffs.
League champion Edwardsville (23-4) is the No. 1 seed in the East St. Louis Regional and will meet No. 8 Belleville West (13-13) or No. 10 O’Fallon (8-18) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 4A East St. Louis Regional.
West and O’Fallon meet in the first round at 7 p.m. Monday.
Fourth-seeded Belleville East (17-10) and fifth-seeded East St. Louis (12-13) will meet in the other first-round game at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the winner advancing to the championship contest at 7 p.m. Friday against Edwardsville, West or O’Fallon.
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Edwardsville defeated visiting Belleville East 76-58 on Friday to wrap up a 14-0 conference schedule. The Tigers have won eight in a row and 16 of 17, and will provide a tough assignment for all postseason foes.
“This regional, there’s a lot of good teams in it and I think anybody could win the regional,” Tigers coach Mike Waldo said. “You just try to prepare the best you can and play the best game you can. But anybody you play in the regional is going to be good. The conference has been excellent and competitive all year and I’m sure the regional is going to be the same way.
“Every game is different. Every opponent you play is a little different. I think you just try to prepare for each game and try to be as ready as you can. Hopefully, you get a few breaks and execute well what you’re trying to do. You have to be able to do different things depending on how you’re playing. It comes down to that.”
Junior A.J. Epenesa has recovered from his bout with the flu. Epenesa has been making opponents sick all season with a barrage of double-doubles. He is averaging 16.8 points and 13.5 rebounds to lead an attack that includes juniors Oliver Stephen (14.5 points, 89 3-pointers) and Mark Smith (14 points, 7.3 rebounds).
Epenesa, an Iowa football recruit, did not play Tuesday against visiting O’Fallon and Edwardsville narrowly escaped with a 54-52 win. Epenesa was serving a one-game suspension Feb. 16 at Collinsville and the Tigers were pushed to overtime before winning 57-54.
“A.J. was sick and he felt a litte bit better Friday night,” said Waldo, who watched his muscular 6-foot-6 post score 18 points, grab 15 rebounds and hand out five assists. “Hopefully, he’ll continue to get better. A.J. does a lot of things well and he’s a very good teammate. The games we didn’t have him, we definitely missed him. Our guys did a good job of playing without him, but of course, we always would rather have him playing.”
Maroons on roll
West coach Joe Muniz is feeling upbeat heading into the regional. The Maroons concluded the regular season with a 61-41 triumph over Granite City to give them their first three-game winning streak of the season.
The Maroons are 7-3 since Jan. 23, as 6-6 freshman E.J. Liddell and 6-7 junior Tyler Dancy continue to torment opponents. Liddell is averaging 18 points and 5.7 rebounds, while Dancy checks in at 16.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
West has defeated O’Fallon three times this season: 64-37 on Dec. 30 in the Centralia Tournament, 51-41 in overtime on Jan. 5 in Belleville and 59-45 on Feb. 5 in O’Fallon.
“It’s a scary game,” Muniz said. “We can’t look past anybody. We’re not good enough to do that. ... O’Fallon is playing well and they’ve got good shooters. If they make their shots, it’s going to be a hard game for us to win.”
Bracing for Tigers
If West wins for a fourth time against the Panthers, it will face an Edwardsville squad that has won both meetings against the Maroons: 65-42 in Edwardsville and 59-49 in Belleville.
“Obviously, you want to win and have the opportunity to play the second game ... but turning around and playing Edwardsville on basically zero days of preparation is a tough call,” Muniz said. “It’s hard to prepare for Edwardsville for a week, let alone turn around and play. But we would like that opportunity. We’ve got to make sure we take care of Monday night.”
O’Fallon, which closed the regular season with a 61-52 loss to visiting Alton, is led by senior Chance Armstrong’s 13.3 points per game. O’Fallon has two wins over East St. Louis this season in addition to a near-miss against Edwardsville.
East lost twice to East St. Louis during the regular season. The Flyers won 74-68 in East St. Louis and 73-68 in Belleville.
University of Illinois recruit Javon Pickett, a junior, leads the Lancers with a 23.7 points-per-game average, while junior Rico Sylvester averages 12.7 points. The balanced Flyers look to senior Kenny Roberson (12.7 points) and several others to provide firepower.
In the Class 4A Alton Regional, Quincy is the No. 2 seed and will play at 7 p.m. Tuesday against No. 7 Granite City (13-14) or No. 9 Collinsville (9-19). Granite City and Collinsville meet in the opener at 7 p.m. Monday.
In the other first-round game, third-seeded Alton will face sixth-seeded Chatham Glenwood at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The title game is 7 p.m. Friday.
Granite City and Collinsville will be meeting for the fourth time. Collinsville lost the two SWC games against the Warriors after beating them 66-64 in the Collinsville-Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.