Showing the heart of a champion, the Edwardsville Tigers’ postseason journey continued to pick up steam on Thursday at Pekin High School.
Shell-shocked when the Rock Island Rocks jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the opening 2 1/2 minutes, the young Tigers clawed their way back into the game then got big second half production from sophomore Makenzie Siley and freshman Rachel Pranger and rallied for a 53-51 win in the title game of the Class 4A Pekin Sectional.
Using a rotation system of substituting five players at a time, Rock Island (25-8) had the undefeated Tigers on the ropes early. But showing mental toughness far beyond its years, Edwardsville (31-0) took the lead for good when Pranger opened the fourth quarter with consecutive baskets to give her team a 41-37 lead.
With the 6-foot Pranger scoring nine of her 15 points in the final eight minutes, Edwardsville never trailed in the late going. Rock Island closed to within 51-49 on two free throws by Morgan Twing with 16 seconds left.
But when freshman Kate Martin got behind the Rocks’ defense and scored on a layup, the Tigers were headed for the Bloomington Super-sectional on Monday at the Sherk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University.
“I think we were a little shell-shocked early. Who wouldn’t be. That kind of style that they (Rock Island) play is hard to simulate in practice. It’s a lot different when you see it in the game,’’ Tigers coach Lori Blade said. “But the mental toughness that these kids showed tonight in battling back was just unbelievable.
“This was a very good basketball team we beat tonight. I’m just so proud of this group of kids.’’
The win moves Edwardsville into the Class 4A Super-sectional on Monday, where it will take on (Lisle) Benet Acadamy. Benet defeated Oswego 87-60 on Thursday to win the Oswego East Sectional.
Trailing 11-0, Edwardsville finally got on the scoreboard on a basket by Criste’on Waters and behind the play of their 6-foot sophomore and Pranger, managed to cut the Rocks’ lead to 17-10 after one quarter and 30-23 at halftime.
But Silvey came out hot in the third period. The 5-11 sophomore scored eight of the Tigers’ first 10 points and when she scored on a 10-foot jumper with 4:18 left in the period, Edwardsville had its first lead of the game at 31-30.
Silvey, who led Edwardsville with 15 points, then made it 33-30 before the Rocks scored their first basket of the half on a layup by Markyla Williams-Miles with 3:03 left in the period.
“I thought in the first half we were a little too tentative with the basketball. We weren’t taking the ball to the basket when we were getting it over midcourt. The second half, we were more aggressive in taking the ball to the basket,’’ Blade said. “Defensively we changed it up a little bit and we did a better job.’’
Silvey said it took her teammates and her time to adjust to Rock Island’s unique system in which coach Thad Hoover would substitute five players at a time.
“Never. I’ve never played against a team that played like that. But our junior varsity team did a good job of giving us an idea of what it would be like in practice the last couple of days,’’ Silvey said. “Offensively, I played more aggressive in the second half.’’
A 3-point basket by the Rocks’ Justice Wilson-Edell got the Rockets into a deadlock at 37 at the end of three quarters. But Pranger opened the fourth quarter with a pair of baskets and the Tigers never trailed again.
“They (Edwardsville) are a complete basketball team,’’ Rocks coach Thad Hoover said. “We had some chances to have more then a seven point lead. Give Edwardsville credit. They did what they had to do.’’