Central senior leads Cougars to sectional title
The Central Cougars started quickly and finished furiously Thursday.
The Cougars built an 11-0 lead in the first quarter and closed the game with a 13-4 run to outlast East St. Louis 45-36 in the title game of the Class 3A Carbondale Sectional.
"It's an amazing feeling going from 16-14 to (the) Elite Eight," said Cougars senior Faye Meissner, who scored a game-high 25 points. "It's fantastic. It's hard to explain.
"We just had to weather the storm. (East St. Louis) can go on runs, but we can, too. So we knew if we just kept on fighting, we had a good chance to come out on top. It's huge."
The Cougars (28-3) will play Effingham (31-2) in the Springfield Super-Sectional at 7 p.m. Monday at the University of Illinois Springfield. Effingham defeated Charleston 63-54 in the championship game of the Lincoln Sectional on Thursday.
"We're looking forward to the opportunity," Central coach Nathan Rueter said of facing Effingham. "Hopefully, we can go and compete and play well Monday night and give ourselves a chance to advance."
East St. Louis finished its season 17-11.
Flyerettes coach Antonio Mattox was disappointed in the disparity in fouls. East Side was called for 23, compared to 12 by Central.
"I'm a fighter for my kids, and I want the kids to fight for themselves," Mattox said. "Illinois basketball needs to learn one thing: Let the children decide the game, let the kids decide the game. It's not because we lost; it's because (the fouls) were lopsided on us.
"I'm not taking anything away from Breese Central. They're a solid ballclub. ... (But) I've never seen lopsided fouls called, and both of us playing man-to-man."
Senior Kaysie Newson had 14 points and three 3-pointers to lead the Flyerettes. Senior Rochelle Stanley chipped in with 10 points.
Senior Carson Newkirk scored seven for the Cougars and was 5 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Central was 11 of 17 from the line in the period.
East Side trailed 11-0 in the first six-plus minutes, but scored the final eight points of the quarter to get within 11-8. The Cougars' lead was 22-15 at the half as Meissner scored 17.
"They got up and pressured, so I knew I could take it to the basket," Meissner said. "It was working for me, so I just decided to keep attacking."
Newson hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to close the third quarter, and East St. Louis suddenly was within 28-27. But the Cougars didn't fold, although it looked like that could happen.
The Flyerettes tied the game at 29 on junior Mya Glanton's basket less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, then deadlocked the game again at 32 on Newson's banked-in 3-pointer.
Central then went to work, as Newkirk made two free throws and junior Allyson Fehrmann recorded a steal that led to an uncontested layup to make it 36-32 with 2:42 to play.
Junior Darriel Hicks made a free throw to get East Side within 36-33, but Meissner followed with a free throw and a basket in the lane to put Central on top 39-33. After Hicks scored, the Cougars scored six of the game's final seven points.
"We had opportunities to win the ballgame, but when you're frustrated, I know it's hard being an athlete – a young athlete that's 14 to 17 years old," Mattox said. "It's hard to get over things like that. But our kids are resilient. We'll be back. I'm proud of the girls."
The Flyerettes shot 31 percent from the field (13 of 42) and committed 15 turnovers. The Cougars finished at 39 percent (12 of 31) and had 14 turnovers.
Central was 19 of 28 on free throws. East Side was 5 of 16.
"Faye calmed us down a little bit, and making free throws (was key)," Rueter said. "Rebounding, defense and making free throws was what won the game for us tonight."
Rueter said Meissner was "unquestionably the best player on the floor."
"Hopefully, that will continue a few more games for us," he said. "We'll see."