Senior Sydney Thurwalker scored 18 points — including two free throws with 17 seconds remaining — to lift the O’Fallon Panthers past Highland 53-47 Thursday in a semifinal game at the 32nd annual Highland Scott Credit Union Girls Basketball Tournament.
The defending champion Bulldogs, fighting from behind for much of the night, closed to within 47-45 with 1:19 remaining on a 3-pointer by senior Rece Portell.
Following a basket by Thurwalker, Portell scored again to cut the margin to 49-47. After an exchange of possessions, Thurwalker, who was only 2 of 6 from the foul line, missed the front end of a 1-and 1, giving the Bulldogs a chance to tie with 21.8 seconds remaining.
But when sophomore Ellie Brown was missed a short baseline jumper, Thurwalker grabbed the rebound and was fouled. After Thurwalker increased the lead to 51-47, senior Jayla Stubblefield hit a layup as time expired and the Panthers were in a tournament championship for the third time this season.
“I told the girls in the locker room that we’re 11-0 in tournaments this season, and that’s something. With the quality teams that have played, that’s something of which they can be proud,” a relieved O’Fallon coach Nick Knolhoff said. “Was I nervous before Sydney (Thurwalker) shot the free throws? No, because I know what a great shooter she is. We beat a very good Highland team tonight.”
The win moves O’Fallon (19-2) into the title game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Central. The Cougars (18-2) advanced to the title game with an upset win over Class 3A state-ranked Civic Memorial in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
Highland (14-7) will take on Civic Memorial in the third-place game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Junior Reyna Bullock added 12 points, and Stubblefield chipped in with 11 for O’Fallon. Portell led Highland with 22 points. Freshman Bella LaPorta added eight for the Bulldogs.
“I was very pleased at the effort,” Bulldogs coach Mike Arbuthnot said. “The shot by Brown in the end was one that we wanted. There was contact on the play ... I thought one of the keys was when we got defensive stops, we didn’t convert on the offensive end of the court.”
Winner of the Mascoutah Invitational less than a month ago, O’Fallon built a 24-16 lead midway through the second quarter as reserve guard Reyna Bullock — averaging only 2.7 points entering play Thursday — hit a pair of 3-point shots and scored nine points.
But Highland, playing on its home floor, responded with a 15-2 run over the final 3:50 of the half to take a 29-26 lead.
Portell, who scored 15 points in the first half, connected on five free throws, and when freshman Bella LaPorta added four points and sophomore Ellie Brown hit a 12-foot jumper at the buzzer, the Bulldogs had a three-point lead.
Okawville 42, Nashville 37, 2OT
Junior Kathryn Lohman opened the second overtime with a 3-pointer, and the Rockets defeated rival Nashville to advance to the fifth-place game.
Senior Madelyn Tepe led Okawville (14-5) with 15 points, while Lohman added 10. Senior Karly Stanowski paced Nashville (16-6) with 20 points.
Teutopolis 43, Mater Dei 39
The Wooden Shoes (21-2) built a big early lead, then withstood a furious Mater Dei comeback to advance to the fifth-place game.
Senior Macy Michaels led Teutopolis with 13 points, while Kierra Winkeler led Mater Dei (16-7) with 18 points.