Continuing to live by the old cliche of taking it one game at a time, the New Athens Yellowjackets moved another step closer to perfection on Monday at New Athens High School.
Junior Alina Lance scored six of her team-high 13 points in the first quarter and the undefeated Yellowjackets never looked back as they clinched a tie for the Cahokia Conference’s Kaskaskia Division title with a 51-39 win over Lebanon.
Abby Marlow and Denae White added four points each early for New Athens, which led 16-13 after one quarter then held the Greyhounds to a combined 12 points in the second and third periods to break the game open.
“I’m pleased. We came out knowing that Lebanon was a much improved team from the first time we played them and that we needed to be executing on both ends of the floor,” New Athens coach Erik Hager said. “I think we had three players in double figures tonight and that’s been what this team has been about all year.
“Denae (White) has had a few games where she’s had some big scoring nights, but for the most part we’ve had good balanced scoring each night. Our balance on the offensive end of the court and good team defense have been two of the major reasons for our success.They were again tonight.”
The win improves New Athens to 21-0 for the season and 8-0 in league play. The Yellowjackets have league games with Marissa and Steeleville remaining. But, like so many of her teammates, Lance isn’t about to look past any opponent. Right now, she and the rest of the Yellowjackets have their eyes only on Marissa on Thursday.
“One game at a time. That’s what our coaches are always telling us and it’s what we do,” Lance said. “An undefeated regular season would be great. But we want more then that.”
Marlow added 12 points and Lance chipped in with 10 for New Athens. Lebanon (15-4, 6-2) was led by Kara Koester who paced all scorers with 17 points.
An excellent perimeter player, Koester had a pair of 3-point baskets and nine points in the first quarter but was held scoreless in the middle two periods when New Athens broke the game open.
The win is New Athens second of the season over Lebanon. The Yellowjackets posted a lopsided 46-27 win over their Kaskaskia Division foes in late November.
“I just told the girls that I was proud of them. Tonight we competed with them (New Athens). It’s just that they have so much experience with all the juniors and seniors that they play and because of their success in other sports,” Greyhounds coach Chad Cruthis said. “We’re starting two freshmen and a sophomore. It makes a difference. New Athens is a very good basketball team and we’d love another shot at them because in would come in the sectional final in three weeks. It was a 12-point game tonight, but to me it was closer then that. If we make a couple more of the layups we missed who knows what happens.”
But on this night it didn’t happen. Showing the same poise which has pushed them to excellence both on the volleyball court and softball field the last two years, the Yellowjackets responded in the clutch by making eight of 10 from the free throw line in the final periiod to keep the Greyhounds from drawing close.
And now New Athens is close to defending its crown in the rugged Kaskaskia Division.
“I wouldn’t want to say we have it wrapped up. We have two league games left with Marissa and Steeleville. But winning here tonight does put us in a good position,” Hager said. “This group of girls just knows how to win. They are calm and they have a lot of poise when things get tight.”