O’FALLON With the Belleville West Maroons battling for their playoff lives, senior Shay Fluker simply responded like she has so many times before on Wednesday at the Class 4A O’Fallon Girls Basketball Regional,
Fluker scored nine of her game high 28 points in the fourth quarter — including six in the final 2 minutes 36 seconds — as West held off O’Fallon 54-51 in a semifinal contest at the Panther Dome.
Beaten twice by the Maroons during the regular season, O’Fallon gave the Maroons all it wanted from the outset as, led by its sophomore duo of Celeste Okoro and Marta Durk, led 15-14 after one quarter and trailed the senior-dominated Maroons only 40-38 entering the fourth period.
But in the end it was the play of Fluker which proved to be the difference. With West leading 52-51, Fluker scored on a drive to the basket with 58 seconds remaining to increase the lead to three points.
The basket proved to be the final points of the game as O’Fallon missed three free throws and the Maroons turned the ball over twice in the final minute. The Panthers had one last chance in the closing seconds. But following an O’Fallon timeout, West would not allow a potential game-tying three point shot to be taken as time ran out on O’Fallon’s season.
“We had a play set up for a 3-point shot, But they (West) did a great job of guarding the perimeter,’’ Panthers coach Ryan Massey said. “Playing what I feel is one of the best teams around that has two of the top guards in the state, down to the wire, I’m very proud of my team.
“We just came up a little short in the end.’’
Senor Imani Berry added 14 points for West (24-5) which will take on third-seeded Collinsville (15-12) in the regional title game on Friday at 7 p.m. The Kahoks stunned second-seeded East St. Louis 53-38 in the second semifinal on Wednesday.
And thanks in a large part to the play of Fluker, West barely avoided the same fate as East St. Louis.
“Shay hit some big shots and we were able to make a couple of defensive stops late in the game. But we cerainly didn’t play very well,’’ a relieved West coach Clayton Fisher said. “If we play like we did tonight against either Collinsville or East St. Louis, the season could be over.’’
West seemed out of sync on both ends of the court in the first half. Struggling to find its shooting touch through the first 10 minutes and allowing the Panthers to get good shots on offense, West trailed by four poitns early in the second quarter. It wasn’t until Berry hit a short jumper and Fluker scored on a 3-point shot that West led by a 27-23 margin late in the second quarter.
But a short-range jumper by O”Fallon junior Becca Althoff tied the game at 27 at intermission.
“That’s as bad a defense as we’ve played in a long time. There were times when we looked lost and I have no reason for it,’’ Fisher said. “Give O’Fallon credit. They came out with a game plan and we didn’t respond to it very well.’’
“We were able to get some turnovers and speed up the game a little bit with our trap and then we just were able to make a few more plays down the stretch. I told the girls that we were fortunate to win tonight and we were.’’
Okoro scored 18 points for O’Fallon while Durk added 17.
In the other semifinal on Wednesday.
Collinsville 53, East St. Louis 38: Senior Aubreeney Brady and sophomore Kaityln Fischer set the tone with 10 first half points each as the third-seeded Kahoks jumped out fast and never slowed up as it easily defeated East St. Louis in a battle of Southwestern Conferencce powers.
With the lightning quick Brady causing havoc for the Flyerettes throughout the first half, Collinsville (15-12) broke open a close game with a 14-2 spurt late in the first quarter and in the early stages of the second. Caity Brombolich added six points during the scoring spurt as the Kahoks built a commanding 31-19 lead at halftime.
“Aubreeney did what she does, which is create for us and we were able to come out and set the tone of the game early,’’ a smiling Kahoks coach Lori Billy said. “We played the game the way we need to in order for us to be successful.
“But we played very well early. That was important that we get out fast tonight.’’
East St. Louis (20-6), which got eight points each from Janesha Munson and Zenobia Reeds, fell behind by as many as 24 points on two occasions late in the third quarter. The Flyerettes closed to within 12 points with just over four minutes left, but three of a total of 22 turnovers in a 45 second span ended any hopes of a comeback.
Brady led Collinsville with 18 points while Fischer added 12.