Offensive flow was largely nonexistent Tuesday when the fourth-seeded O’Fallon Panthers met sixth-seeded Belleville West in the semifinals of the Class 4A Belleville West Regional.
But sophomore Kaylee Hanger finally found some magic from the free-throw line in the final 1:14 as the Maroons eked out a 44-36 victory, their first win over the Panthers in three attempts this season.
The 5-foot-8 Hanger made nine free throws in the final 1:14 and finished with a game-best 14 points. West (18-11) will meet Edwardsville (27-1) in the title game at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Tigers, who defeated eighth-seeded East St. Louis 66-37 in the other semifinal, defeated West 51-22 and 62-23 in the regular season.
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“One way or another, you’re going to have to get through Edwardsville to get out of the sectional,” West coach Seth Garrett said. “The advantage of them being down here is we get them on our home court. I think the girls are ready. We’re going to go out and I guarantee we won’t play scared. We’re going to go right at them.
“But everybody knows you can’t just roll the balls out there and beat Edwardsville. We’re going to have to play our best game and follow the game plan.”
Garrett was confident to see Hanger at the free-throw line with the game in the balance.
“That’s the third game where she’s been our closer, where we just give her the ball late and she steps up,” Garrett said. “She didn’t make them all, but she made enough tonight.”
O’Fallon (16-12) was led by junior Marta Durk’s 10 points. The Panthers, who were tied with West at 31 after two free throws by sophomore Jayla Stubblefield with 6:06 to play, fell behind for good at 33-31 when West freshman Chayma Darough (nine points) had a putback.
“When you don’t get shots, you don’t score,” O’Fallon coach Ryan Massey said. “We had 27 turnovers, and I can’t tell you the last time we’ve done that in a game. I don’t know what it was. We were obviously rushed on the floor. We played very out of character.
“I’ve got two seniors in there (Desiree Mosely and Becca Althoff) who are upset and hurt. That’s what I care about. The kids battled; they played hard. But to have 27 turnovers and not shoot the ball well ... that’s not real typical of our team.”
The game was tied at 7 after one quarter, but West closed the second quarter with a 10-2 surge to lead 22-16 at halftime. Sophomore Sydney Thurwalker’s 3-pointer was the big shot.
But O’Fallon started fast in the second half, quickly moving ahead with a 7-0 that featured two layups and a free throw by Althoff. Just as quickly, however, the momentum faded.
“If you notice the difference between those three or four possessions, they were very poised, very focused and very calm,” Massey said. “Then all of a sudden we got rushed again and got in a hurry to score. We were lackadaisical with the basketball.”
Garrett gave the Panthers a different look the third time around.
“We tried to play them zone the first two games,” he said. “We’ve been working a lot on man-to-man in practice and we came out and played them man almost the entire game. We went zone late to give them a different look.
“But our girls have been working hard at it, and it showed. O’Fallon’s a pretty good team. For us, defensively, to hold somebody under 40, I’m proud of my girls for doing that. ... We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played well enough to make up for our mistakes.”
Edwardsville 66, East St. Louis 37
Junior Makenzie Silvey scored 24 points and sophomore Rachel Pranger had 20 as the top-seeded Tigers outscored the Flyerettes 34-17 in the second half.
Sophomore Kate Martin added 10 points for Edwardsville, which was 20-for-26 from the free-throw line. East Side (12-10) got 15 points from sophomore Rokelle Stanley and 14 from senior JaNesha Munson. The Flyerettes were 8-for-18 from the line.
The Tigers led 32-20 at halftime even with 6-0 junior Criste’on Waters on the bench with two fouls for the final 9:43.
“It was ugly throughout. I’ll be the first to say that,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. “But right now, it’s about moving on. We survived and did some good things at times. But (East St. Louis’) athleticism and their speed makes it ugly at times, too. We executed well enough tonight, but we need to be a little bit better on Thursday.”
Edwardsville was already leading 41-25 late in the third quarter when Silvey stepped up and virtually sealed the game with consecutive 3-pointers that made it 47-27. The lead swelled to 57-31 on a basket in the lane by senior Annie Ellis with 3:44 to play.