Snakebiten once and beaten by the better team in three of its last four tournament title game apperances, the Belleville West Maroons finally got the sweet taste of a championship Saturday at the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
Senior Alliyah St. John forced overtime with a steal and layup with eight seconds remaining in regulation and junior guard Erika Harvey gave her team some breathing room down the stretch with a clutch 3-point basket as the Maroons defeated Mater Dei 55-51 in the title game before a large crowd at Highland High School.
Looking for its third win in the 29-year history of the tournament and second since 2010, Mater Dei (14-8) rallied from a double-digit deficit to take a 49-47 lead when senior Lauren Donnewald scored with just over a minute remaining.
Following a missed shot by the Maroons, Mater Dei was attempting to run out the clock when St. John picked a Knights player clean from behind and went in for her game-tying layup.
West senior Imani Berry then opened the overtime with a 3 to give the Maroons the lead for good, but it wasn’t until Harvey nailed her 3-pointer late in overtime that West could start celebrating its first title at the tournament.
“Alliyah sometimes gets overlooked, but she is our best defender and always guards the opponent’s top guard. She came up with a huge steal and then she finished with the basket. She has trouble doing that at times,’’ West coach Clayton Fisher said. “Then Erika (Harvey) steps up and hits that big 3-point shot to give us a four-point lead in overtime.
“I’m just so pleased for the girls. This is a long time coming.’’
Berry led West with 22 points, while tournament most valuable player Shay Fluker added 16 for West (18-4). The Maroons had fallem to Central in the title game the previous two years. Central had also beaten West in the title game of the Mascoutah Holiday Tournament in each of the last two years.
But with a near perfect opening six minutes Saturday when it jumped out to a 13-2 lead, West was determined to make Saturday its day.
“This means a lot, especially for the seniors, because we had chances to win tournaments before and come up short,’’ Berry said. “We were determined to make it happen today. We wanted this one very badly.’’
Mater Dei (14-8), which had dropped a pair of close games to West earlier in the season, got 20 points from the 5-foot, 11-inch Donnewald and 12 points off the bench from sophomore Logan Braundmeier. Strong in the post, Donnewald scored on several short-range jumpers, while Braundmeier energized the Knights with her athleticism and quickness as she helped ignite the Mater Dei offense after a slow start.
“They (West) are so quick that defensively they create problems for a lot of teams. We struggled early, but I was pleased at how we battled back,’’ Mater Dei coach David Kohnen said. “This was a good tournament for us. We had the chance to play four very good teams this week and we had a chance to play a lot of kids and see what they could do.
“I thought h the kids off the bench came in and played very well.’’
The Knights’ free throw shooting in the fourth quarter and overtime proved to be costly. Mater Dei was 10-for-10 from the foul line though three quarters, but made just 4 of 12 in the final 12 minutes.
“We had some opportunities,’’ Kohnen said. “Maybe it just wasn’t our time.’’
Highland 46, Central 43: Senior Olivia LaPorta scored all 12 of her points in the second half while teammate Amanda Ponce added 12 more as second-seeded Highland overcame the strong effort from Central’s Kendra Wilken in the third-place game.
Wilken was nearly unstoppable in the first half, scoring 19 of the Cougars’ 21 points.
But held in check by Highland’s Bailey Leitschuh in the second half, the 6-2 Wilken scored just four points. Meanwhile,LaPorta and the rest of the Bulldogs rallied for the win.
The third place game featured the top two seeds entering play a week ago.
But after losing semifinals, both Central, ranked second in the Class 2AState poll, and Highland, ranked 10th in Class 3A, still waged a battle of two of the top teams in the state.
“I think both teams knew coming into today that this was an important game. This game definetly had a postseason feel and atmopshere to it,’’ Highland coach Mike Arbuhnot said. “We kept battling all day and that’s the way this basketball team plays every night. Thiis is a special group of kids.
“We picked it up on the defensive end in the second half. I looked at the scoreboard and she (Wilken) had 19 points and we — as a team — had 17. Bailey (Leitschuh) guarded her (Wilken) in the second half and we gave her help.’’
The win over Central (21-3) is the second of the season for Highland. The Bulldogs (21-2) won 50-47 earlier this month in a game also played at Highland.
Triad 51, Wesclin 30: Junior Sophie Thompson put the finishing touch on a solid week with 21 points while sophomore Hannah Johnson added 10 points and seven steals as the Knights (14-7) roared past the Warriors in the consolation title game.
With Thompson scoring nine second-quarter points, Triad rebounded from a sluggish start to take command over the Warriors (13-8) which struggled against the Knights pressure defense .
“I thought we were a little lax with our defense early in the game but when we started geting after it a little more, they (Wesclin) had a litle more difficulty against our pressure,’’ Knights coach Josh Hunt said. “I’m very proud of how we played here.
“To go 3-1 is a real accomplishment here because this (Highland) tournament is one of the toughest around. Our girls have gone through some adversity. To see them have some success because of the work they have put in is great to see.’’
The 14 wins is one more then the 13 Triad had during the past three seasons combined.
Carrie Rakers led Wesclin with 11 points.
Taylorville 60, Teutopolis 55: Senior Grace Bollinger scored 22 points and junior Hannah Jachino added 16 as the Tornados captured the fifth place game.
Chelsey Hardiek led Teutopolis with 21 points.