OKAWVILLE The New Athens Yellowjackets storybook season continues.
Senior Denae White and junior Abby Marlow combined to make four free throws in final minute and senior Anisa Al-Bori put the game away with a free throw with eight seconds remaining as New Athens held off Lebanon 57-51 in the semifinals of the Class A Okawville Girls Sectional on Tuesday at Okawville High School.
Fighting an uphill battle the entire night, Lebanon closed to within 54-51 on a basket by Kendra Bass with under 35 seconds remaining. Following a New Athens turnover, Lebanon’s Kara Koester missed a baseline jumper and the Yellowjackets Al-Bori was fouled with 8.7 seconds remaining.
The senior missed the first free throw, but when she made the second to give her team a four-point lead, New Athens was in the sectional title game.
“I was freaking out. I’m like come on, it’s a free throw,’’’ Al-Bori said following the game. “I’m just so glad I was able to make the second one.
“One of our goals this year was to make it further in the postseaon then we did a year ago. Now we’ve done that. We’d like to make it last a little longer.’’
The win moves New Athens (27-1) into the sectional title game on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Hardin-Calhoun. The state’s third ranked Class 1A team,. Calhoun defeated Winchester West Central in the first semifinal on Tuesday.
“We know we’ve got our work cut out for us, New Athens coach Erik Hager said. “ Tonight we knew Lebanon wss a good team because we had played them twice already. It was like we knew all about them and they knew all about us. It was going to come down to what team made the plays down the stretch and while we were cold from the foul line (11 of 23 in the second half), I guess we made just enough of them.
“Out poise and experience helped us too. A junior-senior group like this one. They’ve been in games like this before.’’
New Athens, which defeated Lebanon 46-27 and 51-39 to win the Cahokia Conference - Kaskaskia Divsion by two games, looked like it would have an easy time as it jumped out to a quick 15-4 lead as White scored seven of her 13 points.
But Lebanon battled back behind Kendra Bass. Bass scored 13 of her 18 points in the first half and gave her team its only lead of the game 29-27 with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.
But baskets by Marlow, Alina Lance and Jordan Drake got New Athens back on track as it led 36-33 at halftime.
But as it would be again in the second half, the Yellowjackets owned the backboards as White, Lance and Drake helped give their team the lead and a huge advantage in the final two quarters.
“The difference in the game was rebounding. We just couldn’t keep them off the boards. I don’t know how many of their points came on offensive rebounds but it was a bunch,’’ Lebanon coach Chad Cruthis said. “The experience factor was also a key. But I’m proud of my team. We were behind early but we kept battling and gave ourselves a chance. Down by three with the ball with under 20 seconds left, that’s all I can ask.’’
White and Marlow had 13 points each for New Athens.
In the first semifinal
Hardin Calhoun 67, (Winchester) West Central 30: Tall and athletic, Hardin Calhoun dominated in every phase of the game as it cruised past the Cougars.
Ranked third in the Class A state poll, Calhoun used the inside strength of 6-foot-1 junior Emma Baalman, 6-2 junior Grace Baalman and 6-foot junior Kassidy Klocke to dominate on the boards while allowing Winchester West Central very little chance to get on track.
With Emma Baalman scoring 13 of her 26 points, the Warriors led 36-17 at halftime.
Grace Baalman added 13 points while Klocke chipped in with 11 points for the Warriors. Senior all-stater Abby Leshment paced the Cougars with 16 points.