The Belleville East Lancers open postseason play this week faced with a very large task.
Seeded third in their portion of the Class 4A Champaign Centennial Regional/Sectional, the Lancers are hosting one of four regional tournaments Tuesday and will take on either seventh-seed Collinsville or 11th-seed Granite City in a semi-final round game Wednesday beginning at 7:30 p.m.
At stake is a trip to the title game Friday against the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state — Southwestern Conference champion Edwardsville. The Tigers (25-0) defeated Belleville East twice this season by a combined 61 points.
“With 11 teams in a regional, it’s always tough to figure out what teams go where. I think a lot of it is done regionally anyway,” Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said. “In the postseason you can’t avoid anybody. You’re going to have to play the best eventually. Lets face it, for quite a few years now, and dating back to when I played here (East), the road to the state tournament for teams in this area goes through Edwardsville.
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“Right now though we’re not thinking Edwardsville. We play the winner of the Collinsville-Granite City game on Wednesday. We played them both last week and so we have a feel for them Collinsville played us tough and so we’re not looking past anybody. It’s one game at a time.”
Edwardsville, the Class 4A state tournament runner-up a year ago, will take on either Alton or Belleville West in the first semifinal Wednesday at 6 p.m. The regional title game is set for Friday at 7 p.m.
O’Fallon, the second overall seed, is competing in the Chatham-Glenwood Regional this week. The Panthers and third-seed Springfield are the top seeds at Chatham-Glenwood.
The Lancers head into postseason play with a 17-9 record in what has been a somewhat inconsistent season. With junior all-state guard Kaylah Rainey battling early season injuries, the team got off to a slow start, losing five of its first seven games. But highlighted by a trip to the title game of the Mascoutah Tournament in December, East is 15-4 in its last 19 games.
“Three of our losses were in the opening O’Fallon Tournament. I’m not making excuses, but Kaylah (Rainey) was hurt and then in our second game of the year, one of our post players, Hananh (Mitchell) goes down with a knee injury. We had five games in a week and there was no time to practice and get everything squared away,” Kemezys said. “Since that time we’ve lost six games: two to Edwardsville, two against O’Fallon and one against Normal Community which is one of the best teams in the state.”
Should the Lancers meet Edwardsville in the regional, they will be playing one of the premier programs in the state. Led by its trio of future NCAA Division I players — Myriah Noodel-Haywood, Kate Martin and Rachel Pranger — the Tigers have dominated all competition once again this season
“Last year they (Edwardsville) had a team of five D-1 players. They lose two of them and yet they are just as good this year. It’s a very successful program and has been for a very long time. It’s called tradition,” Kemezys said. “But if we are fortunate enough to play them in the regional title game, I welcome that challenge and I’m sure the girls on this basketball team will as well.
“This is a very special group of girls on this basketball team. We have exceptional leaders and character in our senior class. Basketball wise, at times, this team can be pretty special. No team is unbeatable. On any given night, anything can happen. On any given night.”
Class 3-4A Girls Basketball postseason capsules
Class 3A Civic Memorial Regional
▪ Seeds: 2. Civic Memorial, 3. Highland, 6. East St. Louis, 8. Cahokia, 9. Triad
▪ Favorite: Civic Memorial
▪ Could Surprise: Highland
▪ Synopsis: The top-ranked Class 3A team in the state when the season began in November, the Eagles (28-2) haven’t disappointed. Led by senior Kaylee Eaton (14.5 ppg), Civic Memorial raced to another Mississippi Valley Conference championship and have three wins this year over third seed and MVC rival Highland. The Bulldogs (19-10) have one of the top backcourts in Southern Illinois in senior Rece Portell (11.2) and sophomore Ellie Brown (12.3).
Class 3A Freeburg Regional
▪ Seeds: 1. Central, 4. Jerseyville, 5. Freeburg, 7. Columbia, 10. Mascoutah, 11. Waterloo
▪ Favorite: Central
▪ Could surprise: Jerseyville
▪ Synopsis: Top-seeded Central has been one of the surprise stories of the 2017-18 season. Currently 24-3, the Cougars have one of the top players in the St. Louis area in senior guard Faye Meissner and a team made up of role players. Central is 12-1 since the start of the new year and won another Cahokia Conference title. Overshadowed by state powers Civic Memorial and Highland, Jerseyville (17-8) has had a great season and is led by junior guard Clare Breden (17.3 ppg). Freeburg (19-6) has also gone under the radar and the host Midgets will be giving their all for coach Lori Crunk, who has announced this is her final year
Class 4A Belleville East Regional
▪ Seeds: 1. Edwardsville, 4. Belleville East, 7. Collinsville, 8. Alton, 9. Belleville West, 11. Granite City
▪ Favorite: Edwardsville
▪ Could surprise: Belleville East
▪ Synopsis: Ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A state poll, the Tigers should not be pushed until the sectional title game next week. Led by senior all-stater Kate Martin (17.6), Edwardsville (25-0) hasn’t had a close game in the Southwestern Conference and will more than likely face three leagues before playing in the title game of the Champaign Centennial Sectional. Belleville East (17-9) and Collinsville (12-13) are the top hopes of pulling off a huge upset.
▪ Seeds: 2. O’Fallon, 3. Springfield, 5. Chatham-Glenwood, 6. Quincy, 10. Champaign Centennial
▪ Favorite: O’Fallon
▪ Could surprise: Springfield
▪ Synopsis: The O’Fallon Panthers have been the second-best team in the SWC all season under first year coach Nick Knolhoff. O’Fallon (24-4) is led by seniors Jayla Stubblefield and Sydney Thurwaker. Springfield (18-8) upset O’Fallon in the regional final a year ago while Chatham-Glenwood (17-10) is a threat on its home court.