For one half Monday, Mascoutah was able to hang with the Massac County Patriots.
But the Patriots, who led just 18-16 at the break, turned up the heat in the second half and downed the Indians 41-34 in the semifinals of the Class 3A Highland Sectional.
“I told our kids at halftime that I thought we could get up in the passing lanes a little bit,” Massac County coach Keith Shelton said. “The first half, we didn’t really want to do that because they run a lot of basket cuts, and I just didn’t want us to get beat going to the bucket.
“But then I thought we kind of got rid of the nerves and all that and could get up in the lanes a little bit. We did that. We’ve got a little bit of work to do on our offense, but in the first half, we didn’t make many shots. In the second half, we were much better.”
The Patriots (20-8), who got 11 points apiece from seniors Jessie Douglas and Emily Hoard, will play Civic Memorial (26-6) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Mascoutah, which fell behind 35-23 early in the third quarter, finished 14-15. Junior Alex Cleveland led all scorers with 12 points.
“They had some transition baskets in the third quarter that gave them just enough separation,” Indians coach Terry Moeller said. “Good teams, if they get separation on you, it’s tough.”
Mascoutah trailed 7-2 with 2:34 left in the first half as Massac County got baskets from junior Jessica Coakley and Hoard sandwiched around two free throws by Douglas.
The Indians dug in, however, and two free throws by freshman Tieghan Morio cut Massac County’s advantage to 18-16 at the break.
After Mascoutah tied the game at 18 on a basket by junior Tennaye Green, the Patriots went on a 15-5 run in the final 5:45 to lead 33-23 heading into the fourth quarter. One of the biggest shots in the flurry was a 3-pointer from the right side by senior Gracyn McBride that gave Massac County a 28-21 lead with 2:18 to play in the period.
The Patriots closed the quarter with five straight points.
“Our intensity level just went up,” Shelton said before a pause and a reality break as he looked ahead to Thursday. “We’ve got our hands full now. That’s OK. (Civic Memorial) is very good. They go nine, 10 deep. But it’s the Sweet 16. I’ll just tell my kids to have fun and we’ll see what happens.”
Douglas’ two free throws put Massac County ahead 35-23 with 7:09 left in the game, and the Indians were no closer than eight until Cleveland’s free throw with 29.2 seconds remaining.
“They played pretty well in the third quarter,” Moeller said of the Patriots. “I don’t know what the difference was. If you want to say they had more fire than us, then they had more fire than us. I don’t know. I’ll just say they made more baskets than we did.”
Mascoutah hurt its comeback bid with three missed layups, which only added to Massac County’s momentum.
“They’re painful,” Moeller said of the layups, which were contested. “Sometimes when the other team plays good defense, it disrupts your offense. So everything we got tonight, we earned. I give credit to them for playing good defense. When you miss shots, it just looks like you’re out of flow.”
Civic Memorial 55, Salem 46: Sophomore Allie Troexler had 26 points and 10 rebounds and freshman Alaira Tyrus had 10 points as the Eagles pulled away in the second half.
“We were a little slow and played a little rough in the first half, but we knew if we came back in the second half and started fighting, we could come home with a win,” Troexler said. “We still played a little rough, but we got through it.”
Salem, which defeated Civic Memorial 48-39 on Nov. 22 in Salem, finished 22-10.
The game was tied at 21 at halftime, but the Eagles opened the third quarter with an 8-2 outburst that created separation. The Wildcats relied almost exclusively on the 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, but were largely unsuccessful.
“That was part of our game plan,” Civic Memorial coach Jonathan Denny said. “We scouted them (and) played them early in the season. We knew they didn’t particularly shoot it that well from the outside. ... We wanted them to beat us from the outside, not with the dribble-drive and getting it into (Dearria) Watson.”