For the Civic Memorial girls, the fourth time was a charm.
After losing to Highland all three times in the regular season by double digits and being forced to surrender its two-year hold on at least a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference a week earlier, the No. 2 Eagles shocked the top-seeded Bulldogs with a 63-56 victory to capture the championship of the Class 3A Jerseyville Regional on Thursday night.
Earlier in the day, CM coach Jonathon Denney talked to his role players about how important they would be in the outcome of the game, especially after CM’s sophomore leading scorer Allie Trockler lit up Mater Dei for 30 points in the regional semifinal.
“I told them that if you think they’re going to let Allie get 30, you’ve got another thing coming,” Denney said. “Maybe Allie is good enough to get 30 tonight, but they’re really going to concentrate on her, so (Kaylee) Eaton has to knock a couple of shots down, (Journey Coffman) has to knock a couple of shots down, (Alaira) Tyus has to knock a couple of shots down. We’ve got to play great defense and we’ve got to execute and take care of the basketball. It was a true testament to our role players, they got us through tonight.”
Troeckler still scored a game-high 23 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. But Eaton, a freshman, was just as crucial down the stretch as she matched Troeckler’s output in the fourth quarter and finished with 16 points to finish as the runner-up scorer in the game.
Eaton went 4-for-5 from behind the 3-point arc in the contest and she proved that the final frame of a regional title game was not too big of a moment for her as a freshman.
With the Eagles holding a precarious one-point edge after three quarters of play, Eaton canned back-to-back 3-pointers in a 49-second span to put her team on top by three possessions at 49-42 with 6:43 remaining.
That was the big momentum boost CM needed to propel them over the hump and allow the Eagles to finally get by the Bulldogs this season.
“Eaton has no conscience. Earlier in the season, she thought it was NVC, not MVC,” Denney said. “That right there told me that maybe we were just naive enough to be able to pull of something special, and sure enough she was the one (tonight) to hit the big shots so kudos to her.”
Highland would pull as close as 51-47 on a 3-pointer from senior Emily Vonder Haar with 4:43 to play.
But the Eagles responded as Troeckler scored a strong inside basket to help CM pull away by as many as 12 points.
Troeckler, Eaton and junior Katelyn Turbyfill combined to go 10-for-14 from the charity stripe in the final 1:45 to to help keep the Bulldogs at bay despite Vonder Haar and fellow seniors Olivia LaPorta and Mackenzie Kleinemann each scoring three points in the final 1:13.
Tyus finished with nine points and Turbyfill added eight points for the Eagles.
LaPorta paced Highland with 17 points, highlighted by eight in the third quarter to keep the Bulldogs right with the Eagles.
Sophomore Madison Wellen and junior Amanda Ponce also reached double figures for Highland with 12 and 11, points, respectively.
The Bulldogs raced out to leads of 6-1 and 11-4 before the Eagles clawed their way back into the game.
Wellen scored all of her dozen points in the first half, including 10 in the second quarter when she scored five successive points on two separate occasions on a 3-pointer followed by a layup — to stake her team to leads of 16-13 and 23-19.
But CM battled back to tie it at 25 all at the half.
“We had a slow start but our girls responded and they kept believing,” said Denney, who guided the Eagles to their third straight regional crown, which are the first three in program history. “We played with them the first three games, but they made runs on us and we weren’t able to respond.
“We kept them from making a big run tonight with our defense, and I thought we did an unbelievable job of stepping up to the plate and knocking shots down.”
CM will meet Salem at 6 p.m. Monday in the semifinals of the Highland Sectional. The Wildcats won the Olney-East Richland Regional by mauling the host school 66-37 in the championship game.
“First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for Mike Arbuthnot and the Highland girls,” Denney said. “That is a great group of kids and they have had a great season, but at the same time we are playing with pride too, and they took something from us with the Mississippi Valley Conference.
“And I told these girls that there would be nothing sweeter than playing the sectional on Highland’s home court and they went out and got the job done tonight to get that opportunity.”