After watching his Mater Dei Knights team struggle through a woefully sluggish first half on Saturday coach David Kohnen provided it with a simple message at halftime that helped it along the way.
Grace Chiarolanza ignited the Knights offense with a two 3-point baskets in the third quarter and the defense held Wesclin in check with relentless pressure as Mater Dei rallied for a 52-29 win in the quarterfinals of the 29th annual Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
A member of the Cahokia Conference, Wesclin (12-8) controlled the tempo and the game in the first half behind six points each from seniors Zoe Christopher and 6-foot-1 senior center Carrie Rakers. Led by the talented duo, the Warriors built an 18-13 lead over the cold-shooting Knights.
By energized by the words of Kohnen and the 3-point shooting of Chiarolanza, the Knights (11-7) were a different team in the final two quarters as they first caught the Warriors and then broke the game open in the final three minutes with near perfect free throw shooting.
“First of all, Wesclin is a very good team,” Kohnen said. “But we sure didn’t shoot the ball very well and we just weren’t moving very much in the first half. At halftime I told the kids that we needed to do a better job of that. One of the reasons we went to the press in the second half was to get us moving better. Grace (Chiarolanza) gave us a lift when we really needed one when she made those 3-point shots. That was another key part of the game for us.”
The win lifts Mater Dei into the tournament quarterfinals at 8:30 p.m. on Monday against Salem. Wesclin will take on O’Fallon in a consolation round game at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.
Tied at 31 after three quarters, Wesclin struck first to open the fourth period when Ally Isenhower hit a 3-point field goal. But Chiarolanza hit another 3-point shot and Lauren Donnewald hit a pair of free throws to give Mater Dei the lead for good. With Donnewald scoring seven of her 18 points and Elle Evischi and Olvia Theising adding four points each, Mater Dei broke the game open late.
“I was pleased with our effort but there were two things which hurt us in the fourth quarter,” Warriors coach Ben Crawford said. “First of all on offense, we didn’t use the inside-outside combination as much and secondly, we gave up too many offensive rebounds. There were times when they (Mater Dei) had two and three looks at the basket.”
Central 78, Carlyle 58: The early morning start didn’t faze the two-time defending champion Cougars, who jumped out a quick 9-2 lead and were never threatened as they rolled past Cahokia Conference rival Carlyle in the opening game of the tournament.
With junior all-stater Kendra Wilken scoring eight of her game-high 32 points, the Cougars (17-1) led 20-9 just six minutes into the game. Ranked second in the Class 2A state poll, Central made nine of as first 12 shots in the first quarter and didn’t cool off much the rest of the way.
“I was a little concerned how we might come with the early morning start. We had an early game with Okawville at the Mascoutah Tournament and I didn’t think we played that well,” Central coach Nathan Rueter said. “But today we got up early, had a walk through and came out and played well on the offensive end. We do have to tighten up our defense though.”
Alicia Book and Kaylee Schrand added 10 points each for Central which will take on Teutopolis at 7 p.m. on Monday in a quarterfinal round game.
Carlyle (3-17) got 22 points from 5-9 senior post player Breanna Smith. While the Indians never presented any threat after the first six minutes of the game, coach Janelle Pfeiffer liked what she saw from her team.
“I know the final difference was 20 points but in my mind it’s like we were in a 3 to 4 point game. I thought we played very well. We were aggressive. We took the ball to the basket and I thought the girls gave a great effort,” Pfeiffer said. “Central just didn’t miss. What did they shoot? 65 percent from the floor?”
Salem 60, O’Fallon 57: Senior Kalley Beer scored eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter to help Salem rally past O’Fallon in the final upper bracket game of the day at Highland High School.
O’Fallon (8-9) led 37-36 after three quarters but Beer, Emily Baer and Dearia Watson combined for 17 of the Wildcats 24 fourth quarter points. Watson led Salem, which will play Mater Dei, in the quarterfinals on Monday, with 17 points.
Marta Durk led O’Fallon with 17 points while Dominique-Watson Blake added 12.
Belleville West 58, Nokomis 34: Senior Shay Fluker broke loose for 31 points as Belleville West rolled into the quarterfinals with the lopsided win. Imani Berry aadded 14 points for West which led 22-4 after one quarter.
Nashville 42, Triad 36: Down to six players because of injuries, the Hornettes got 23 points from senior Jordi Harre to earn a quarterfinal round game matchup with Belleville West on Tuesday.
Teutopolis 73, Hillsboro 50: Sophomores Jamie Sandschaefer and Reagan Drees combined for 40 points as the Wood Shoes topped the Hilltoppers.