An early 3-point shooting display helped get the Belleville East girls basketball team off to a strong start against Highland on Friday in the opening round of the Salem Lady Wildcats Thanksgiving Tournament.
Sophomore Kaylah Rainey scored 22 points, while Jailyn McClenny and Brittney Nitz added 19 each to key an explosive Belleville East offense, as the Lancers defeated Highland 83-67 in front of a large crowd at Salem High School.
With Rainey and Nitz combining to make four of the Lancers 3-point baskets in the opening quarter, Belleville East gained early momentum against a Highland team which finished third in last season’s Class 3A state tournament.
While the Bulldogs (0-1) got 24 points from senior guard Madison Wellen and 19 from senior forward Olivia LaPorta, they were never able to take the momentum against the much quicker Lancers.
“We came out with that 3-point barrage, and I think it gave us a little confidence,” a smiling Kemezys said following the win. “This is a big win for us. Highland is always such a well-coached, disciplined team, and we knew they would make a run at us, and they did. I was just pleased at how we played down the stretch.
“We were able to handle the pressure, make shots and especially make free throws in the last few minutes to close it out. I’m very pleased. Everybody contributed to this win tonight.”
Senior Hayley Taylor added 13 points for Highland, which started to assert itself early in the third quarter. With the 6-foot-1 Taylor and 6-0 LaPorta starting to take command on the boards over the shorter Lancers, Highland took a 53-49 lead with under a minute remaining.
But baskets by junior Grace Tantillo and Bryce Dowell in the final 30 seconds tied the game at 53 heading into the final period.
Rainey began the final quarter with a 3-point play, and when Nitz and McClenny added baskets 19 seconds apart, the Lancers had a 60-55 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
Highland didn’t get back to even for the rest of the night.
“We were concerned that Highland would try to take the ball inside on us with their height advantage, and for a while in the third quarter, they did,” Kemezys said. “We made some adjustments, and I thought the girls did an excellent job in the fourth quarter.
“Like I said, this is a big win.”
Teutopolis 55, Althoff 36
Junior guard Jolene Bueker scored 14 points, while senior Reagan Drees added 12, as the Wooden Shoes defeated Althoff in the opening game on Friday.
Teutopolis (1-0), getting balanced scoring and playing tough defense throughout, jumped out to a 15-8 first quarter lead and never looked back, as it handed Althoff a season-opening loss.
The Crusaders were without one of their emotional leaders in senior Maggie Reimer, who is out with an injury. It wasn’t the opener for which second-year coach Nick Knolhoff had hoped.
“We’ll get better. With some of the girls just coming back from volleyball, and with Maggie (Reimer) out, it was a tough game against a very good Teutopolis team,” Knolhoff said. “Kyleigh (Vaught) had an off shooting night as well. We had shots ... We just didn’t make them.”
Vaught led Althoff with 22 points, while freshman Karinna Gall added six points in her Crusaders debut.