Executing its offense to near perfection the Belleville West Maroons are again a win away from the championship of the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Invitational.
Red-hot from the outset, seniors Shay Fluker and Imani Berry combined for 59 points on Thursday as West moved into the title game for the third year in a row with a 77-66 win over Highland in a semifinal contest at Highland High School.
Beaten in the title game the past two years by Central, West connected on nine of its first 10 shots and never really cooled off behind a 31-point effort by Berry and 28 from Fluker, shot 60 percent (24-of-40) from the floor – including 10-of-16 from the 3-point line – as they fought off a Highland squad that had lost just once entering the game.
“We split with them (Highland) this summer so I guess this gives us the edge. We really wanted this one tonight,’’ Fluker said. “We knew it would be tough because they are a very good team. But we feel like we’re the best team in the area. Tonight we played like it.’’
The win moves Belleville West (17-4) into the title game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Mater Dei. The Knights (13-7) advanced with a 39-37 upset win over top-seeded Central on Wednesday. Highland (20-2) will take on Central (21-2) in the third place game at 1 p.m.
“I told the girls just now that our offensive execution tonight was the best its ever been while I’ve been coaching girls basketball at Belleville West. I am extremely proud of our effort tonight,’’ West coach Clayton Fisher said. “We took good shots, didn’t force anything and we just played very well.’’
Both the Maroons and Bulldogs came out firing in the first quarter. With Fluker, Berry and Erika Harvey all connecting from 3-point range, West hit seven of its first eight shots. Five of the Maroons’ hoops were 3-point shots with Berry and Harvey connecting on two each as West took an early 21-12 lead.
But Highland was almost as hot. Getting five points each from Olivia LaPorta and Emily Vonderhaar, the Bulldogs closed to within 21-19 before Fluker hit the Maroons sixth 3-point basket of the quarter gave West a 25-19 lead
Running their offense to perfection, the Maroons never faltered even when Highland standouts Olivia LaPorta (19 points) and Amanda Ponce (15) points helped their team make two major runs in the second half.
A short jumper by Ponce cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to six points with under three minutes left. But Berry and Fluker combined to make seven of nine free throws in the closing two minutes to ice the win.
Teutopolis 83, Salem 78 (OT): Given a second life when senior guard Chelsey Hardiek’s 12-foot jumper sent the game into overtime, the Wooden Shoes (12-11) scored the first six points of the extra period and advanced to the fifth place contest.
Sophomore Jamie Sandschafer led Teutopolis with 22 points while Reagan Drees added 20 and Shelby Thompson added 16 points. The Wooden Shoes will take on Taylorville in the fifth place game at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Junior Dearrie Watson led Salem with 30 points.
Taylorville 53, Nashville 32: With all-state senior guard Jordi Harre sitting on the bench with an injured foot the Hornettes proved to be no match for the Tornadoes who advanced into the fifth place game with the lopsided win.
A four-year starter and one of the top players in the state, Harre suffered the injury early in Nashville’s quarterfinal loss to Belleville West on Tuesday. She was on crutches on Thursday, but Hornettes coach and her father Wayne Harre said he hopes his daughter will be back on the floor sometime next week.
Harre joins senior teammates Rachel Reid and Emily Thompson currently sidelined with injuries.
Without Harre in the game, Taylorville won in a breeze. Jumping out to an early 16-0 lead, the Tornadoes were never challenged.
Junior Kalley Talley led Taylorville with 13 points, while freshman Karly Stanowski paced Nashville with 11 points.