This postseason is all about one thing for the East St. Louis Flyers – winning a state championship.
The state’s No. 4 ranked Class 3A team is a step closer following a 61-52 victory over No. 10 Herrin on Tuesday in a Mascoutah Sectional semifinal.
The Flyers won it with their fourth-quarter defense.
Herrin’s Drew Ringel scored on the Tigers’ first possession of the final quarter, pulling his team within 50-49.
However, it would be 5 minutes and 47 seconds before Herrin scored again, when Hayden Hollowell drained a 3 which made it 56-52 with 1:50 remaining in the game
Those two baskets accounted for all of Herrin’s points in the quarter. East St. Louis tallied the game’s final five points – three from the free-throw line -- to seal the win.
“We talked about in the huddle how we needed to lock down on the defensive side of the ball,” said Flyer coach Mark Chambers, whose team outscored Herrin 11-5 in the final period. “Take the driving and passing lanes away. Contest their shots at the rim.
“I thought we did a pretty good job in that quarter.”
Senior Traevion Jones scored six of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Flyers keep Herrin at bay. Four of them came on consecutive possessions to push the lead to six just before Holloway’s 3.
“It was defense that got me going because that’s my role,” said Jones. “But once my defense got going, the rest of the team got going.
“Our close-out game has gotten better over the course of the season.”
With the win, East St. Louis (26-6) advances into Friday’s championship game against the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Highland (28-5) and the host Indians (22-11). Tip off for both games is 7 p.m.
“This game (Friday) is the one where we got eliminated last year, so it’s going to mean a lot to us” said Flyers senior forward Terrence Hargrove, who was part of last year’s team which lost in overtime to Marion in a sectional title game. “We want to move forward. We want to be state champions. So therefore, we’re going to do everything we have to go get there.”
Herrin coach Sayler Shurtz could not have been prouder of his team. The Tigers ended their season 27-5.
“No one was giving these guys a chance but they were not afraid,” said Shurtz. “I thought they were the aggressors from the beginning. I am so very proud of the way they played.”
Herrin showed no fear from the get-go. It effectively pushed the ball up the floor when it could and displayed a crisp passing game in the half-court offense.
A Jones run-out dunk capped the first quarter with East Side in front 21-20. Herrin’s Brandon Anthony scored off a Flyers’ turnover in the waning seconds of the first half to pull the Tigers within 34-29 at the break.
A basket from Luke LaQuatte had Herrin in front 47-46 with 1:36 left in the third period.
But Terrance Hargrove and Jashawn Anderson both scored in the final 1:15 of the period to put the Flyers up by three.
A big key for the Flyers in the second half was their defense on Anthony, the Tigers 5-foot-11 point guard.
An outstanding ball-handler, East Side had a tough time containing Anthony in the first two periods when he scored eight points and dished off a number of assists.
In the second half, while he was not a non-factor, Anthony had just one basket and often was forced to surrender his duties as primary ball-handler.
“My guards are probably the most under-rated defensive guards in the state,” said Chambers. “We get after it and we wanted to give them different bodies. Kind of wear him down.
“They all have their own style (of defending) and it worked out for us.”
Hargrove joined Jones in scoring 15 points to lead the Flyers, while Elijah Rice finished with 13 and team-high six rebounds.
LeQuatte topped Herrin with 16 points and nine rebounds. Ringel had 13 for the Tigers. Anthony had his 10.