Springfield High School made the most of its 31 chances at the free throw line as the O’Fallon Panthers did their best to keep up the defensive pressure with key players on the bench in foul trouble.
The Senators got 21 more shots at the line than O’Fallon, winning the title game of their own Illinois Class 4A girls basketball regional 63-57.
“I thought we attacked the basket, and to come out of it without free throws just boggles my mind, honestly,” said O’Fallon coach Ryan Massey, whose own team hit just 5 of 10 free throws in the game. “Yeah, it hurts when you’re not at the free-throw line, but you’ve got to give Springfield a lot of credit for their defense.”
Springfield will face undefeated Edwardsville in the Normal Sectional semifinals Monday. The game will be played at Collinsville High School at 7 p.m.
O’Fallon’s season ends at 19-10, its best since winning 25 games and a regional championship in 2002-03. The loss also brings an end to the high school career of senior Marta Durk, who went out with a game-high 24 points.
“This is the most memorable season of my life, for sure,” said Durk. “This group of girls is great to be around, and playing for Coach Massey has been a blessing.”
O’Fallon fell behind by six points early but rallied to a lead when Durk scored off a back-handed bounce pass from junior Courtney Keller. The Panthers built a 28-26 halftime lead to a six-point advantage midway through the third quarter.
But their shooting went cold, opening the door for a 13-2 Springfield rally that was led by Raina Gully’s six points.
“There are always moments in the game where you look back, and the one that stands out in my mind was being up four or five in the third quarter and then going ice cold,” Massey said. “While we were cold, they kept hitting the big shots, so instead of us going up by eight or nine, we were suddenly down by five or six.”
Durk stopped the rally with a 3-pointer, and O’Fallon closed the gap to 43-41, but junior Jayla Stubblefield and senior Divine Lane, the Panthers’ top rebounder, were hampered with four fouls each.
Springfield outscored O’Fallon 17-1 from the free-throw line in the second half alone.
“When the shots don’t go in, we fall back on our defense,” Durk said. “We’re tended more toward defense anyway, but you lose that, too, when you’re in foul trouble.”
Caitlin Kayser added 13 points to Durk’s 24, including three 3-pointers. O’Fallon shot 23 for 52 from the field in the game.
Springfield put four players in double figures, including Gully’s 17, Montshianna Pulliam’s 15, and 10 each by Ashley Robinson and Ozzy Erewele. The Senators were 18 for 41 from the field with six 3-pointers.