One year after a crushing defeat to East St. Louis, the Belleville West Maroons claimed a Class 4A regional championship on Friday at O’Fallon High School.
Their rewards? A shiny regional plaque and another shot at the Edwardsville Tigers.
Seniors Shay Fluker and Imani Berry keyed an 8-0 scoring run over the final four minutes of the first half, as the Maroons took command and went on for a 54-29 win over Collinsville in the title game of the Class 4A O’Fallon Girls Basketball Regional.
Just 48 hours after an impressive upset win over East St. Louis, Collinsville (16-13) trailed the top-seeded Maroons just 16-14 with just over four minutes left in the first half following a short jumper by senior guard Aubreeney Brady.
But Fluker followed with a 3-point basket to make the score 19-14. Berry scored on a drive to the basket and a free throw and when Alliyah St. John followed with a 5-foot jumper from the lane, West (25-5) had a 24-14 lead at halftime.
Collinsville would never get closer than eight points the rest of the way as West, getting a combined 44 points from Fluker, Berry and junior guard Erika Harvey, pulled away in the second half.
“I’m not going to say anything about last year because East St. Louis just beat us in the regional title game. But for this group to win a regional is pretty special,” West coach Clayton Fisher said. “It’s special because we’ve had such a good year and this is just the continuation of it.
“And we’re not done yet. We’d like to keep playing for a little longer.”
The win moves West into the Pekin Sectional where it will take on undefeated Edwardsville at Granite City High School on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Ranked third in the Class 4A state poll, Edwardsville defeated Pekin 69-41 in the title game of the Alton Regional on Friday.
Edwardsville defeated West twice during the regular season.
“The big thing as far as I’m concerned is that we are going to get to play them (Edwardsville) again,” Fisher said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that you’ve got the two best Class 4A teams in southern Illinois playing in that game. That’s all I’m saying.”
With a pair of wins over Collinsville during the Southwestern Conference season, the Maroons broke out fast on Friday. With West trailing by a point, Fluker hit a 3-point jumper, St. John scored on a drive and Fluker turned a Kahoks turnover into a layup. When Harvey hit her second 3-point shot of the period, West had a 13-4 lead.
Trailing 13-7 after one quarter, Collinsville got back in the game when Gabby Morgan hit a 12-foot jumper and Caity Brombolich nailed a 3-point basket. When Brady scored two of her 15 points, the Kahoks were within 16-14.
But that was to be as close as Collinsville would get.
“We were right there with them. We were playing good basketball,” Collinsville coach Lori Billy said. “We had some chances where we got good shots that we just didn’t. I mean, close shots that you can’t miss when you have the chance to convert. That really hurt our chances.
“Plus, we knew that to have a chance, we needed to slow down Berry and Fluker. We didn’t do a very good job of that either.”
Brady cut the West lead to 24-16 in the opening seconds of the third quarter, but Fluker hit a short stop-and-pop jumper and when Harvey and Berry scored on back-to-back 3-point jumpers, the Maroons led 32-16 with still six minutes left in the third quarter.
“We had a nice little run there at the end of the half and at the start of the third quarter,” Flisher said. “I thought we played with a lot more of a focus tonight than we did against O’Fallon earlier in the week. That was good to see.”
Fluker led West with 19 points, while Berry added 13 and Harvey chipped in with 12 on four 3-point baskets.