The Edwardsville Tigers have taken on and conquered all types of challengers this season, racking up 31 straight wins and earning their first trip to the Class 4A State Basketball Tournament in five years.
Up next is a team with a pair of dominant post players and a perimeter-happy offensive attack that has drained 270 3-point shots and won 32 of 33 games this season.
That team is the Montini Catholic Lady Broncos, and they are all that stands between Edwardsville and the Illinois Class 4A title game. The Tigers and Broncos meet in a state semifinal game at Redbird Arena in Normal at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
“Montini is very good, as they always are,” Edwardsville coach Lori Bade said. “They are big with the 6-foot-5 and 6-3 kids inside, and they’ve got guards who can flat out shoot the basketball from the 3-point line. And they shoot a lot of 3s.”
Geneva (27-4) will take on William Fremd (28-6) in the second semifinal at 7:15 p.m. The two winners will battle for the Class 4A state title at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. The third place game will tip off at 5:30 p.m.
Now in his 14th season as the Montini head coach, Jason Nichols has a 422-57 record with four state championships and three third-place finishes — all in Class 3A. This year’s state tournament is the Lady Broncos’ debut in Class 4A.
Montini, which defeated Homewood-Flossmoor 39-35 in its super-sectional, is led by 5-7 senior Kaylee Bambule (13.6 ppg).
Bambule does most of her damage from beyond the 3-point line, where she has made 115 of 292 attempts. The Lady Broncos have attempted more than 700 3-point shots this season.
Aaliyah Patty, a 6-3 junior, is also averaging in double figures at 10.4 ppg and leads the team in rebounds (244), while 6-5 junior Lindsey Jarosinski (9.2) and 5-10 sophomore Zoe Zacker (9.7) are also solid players.
Senior Claudia Kunzer (5-6) and junior Ilysse Pitts (5-6) round out the Lady Broncos starting lineup.
“I know they are big, and they have kids who can really shoot it. Quicknesswise, I’m not sure. It’s hard to judge on film. We’ll have to wait and see them live,” Blade said. “There’s no doubt that with that size and the number of 3-point shots that they take, that they will cause some matchup problems for us. But we think we can cause them some matchup problems as well.”
Edwardsville is making its fifth state tournament appearance under Blade. The Tigers went winless in 2004, 2005 and 2007 at the Class AA state finals, but placed second in the 2012 4A State Tournament, losing to Marshall Metropolitan 63-51 in the championship game.
Blade, who is 423-57 in her 15 years at Edwardsville, coached Carrollton High School to Class A state championships in 2001 and 2002.
Edwardsville had lost super-sectionals in three consecutive seasons, including the last two against two-time defending 4A champion Benet Academy. The sting of those losses put a chip on the shoulders of seniors Makenzie Silvey and Criste’on Waters. It showed following the Tigers’ convincing 59-38 win over Benet in the super-sectional Monday — Silvey scored a game-high 18 points and Waters finished with a double-double.
“To look at pictures of the other night late in the game when we pulled the starters, and to see their reaction and see them so excited, that makes everything we’ve been through with the disappointments worthwhile,” Blade said.
“This is a special group of kids. They count on each other, and they pull together when they need too. I’d said from day one that the chemistry on this team is just unbelievable. They like being around each other. They love practicing together, and to be able to coach them on the last weekend of the season is just awesome. You can’t always say that.”
Both Silvey (15.9 ppg.), bound for Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Waters (8.3) are third-year starters and fourth-year varsity players.
Waters, a 6-foot post player and one of the Tigers’ best defenders, was still hurting after taking a blow to her lower back late in the win over Benet on Monday. Although still sore on Wednesday, Waters was at practice and will play Friday.
“Oh, Cris will play,” Blade said, smiling. “She’s sore, but she’s gone through therapy and treatments. She’ll be in the lineup.”
Athletic and strong guard/forwards Kate Martin and Rachel Pranger are 6-foot juniors who average just under 14 points per game, while a third athletic 6-foot junior, Myriah-Noodel-Haywood (7.7), rounds out the Tigers lineup.
Illinois Girls 4A Final Four
Head Coach: Lori Blade (656-84 in 15 years Edwardsville, 8 years Carrollton)
State History: Second place 2012
Last Year: Lost to Lisle (Benet Academy), 53-51, in Super-Sectional
Leaders: 5-11 Sr. Makenzie Silvey (159 ppg); 6-0 Jr. Rachel Pranger (13.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg); 6-0 Jr. Kate Martin (13.3 ppg); 6-0 Sr. Criste’on Waters (8.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
Colors: Royal Blue/White
Conference: Upstate Eight
Head Coach: Sarah Meadows (146-40 in six years at Geneva)
State History: Fourth in 2009; fourth in 2014
Last Year: Lost to Lombard (Montini) in sectional finals
Leaders: 5-8 Jr. Margaret Whitley (14.2 ppg); 6-2 Sr. Grace Loberg (14.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg); 5-8 Jr .Stephanie Hart (8.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg)
Montini Catholic (32-1)
Nickname: Lady Broncos
Conference: Girls Catholic Athletic
Head Coach: Jason Nichols (490-79 in three years at River Forest Trinity, 14 years at Montini)
State History: Champions in 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010; Third Place in 2015, 2013, 2008)
Last Year: Lost to River Forest Trinity in super-sectional
Leaders: 5-7 Sr. Kaylee Bambule (13.6 ppg); 6-3 Jr. Aaliyah Patty (10.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg); 5-10 Soph Zoe Zacker (9.7 ppg)
William Fremd (28-6)
Colors: Forest Green/Gold
Conference: Mid-Suburban League
Head Coach: Dave Yates (251-90 in 11 years at Fremd)
State History: Second place 2016; Second Place 2015; Third place 1977
Last Year: Lost to Lisle Benet Academy in state championship game
Leaders: 6-2 Sr. Grace Tworek (16 ppg, 10 ppg); 5-8 Sr. Midori Williams (9.3 ppg)