Things were looking up for Belleville East on Monday, but they quickly deteriorated.
Edwardsville went on a 22-5 run in the third quarter to take control, then fought off a comeback by the Lancers in the fourth quarter to record a 63-51 victory in the semifinals of the Class 4A Alton Sectional.
Tigers junior Makenzie Silvey led all players with 23 points and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her career, while sophomore Rachel Pranger scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half.
“It’s a big deal for me,” Silvey said of her first-quarter 3-pointer that gave her 1,000 points. “I wasn’t too focused on it. I just wanted to win this game. My teammates did a good job of getting me open so I could score. I was just trying to get us going.”
It was the 25th consecutive victory for Edwardsville (29-1), which will play Rock Island in the championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday for the second straight year. Last year, the Tigers defeated the Rocks 53-51 to win the sectional at Pekin High School.
“We did have a really good third quarter,” said Edwardsville coach Lori Blade, whose team outscored the Lancers 22-5 in the period. “We challenged them at halftime. We challenged their heart and their will, and they responded really well because I don’t do that very often. I don’t have to do that very often.
“(We) dominated the boards, which changed the whole complexion of the game. And then we got some good looks there at the beginning of the third quarter and knocked them down.”
It was the Lancers’ third loss this season to Edwardsville, following defeats of 54-33 on Dec. 8 in Edwardsville and 49-47 on Jan. 26 in Belleville. But second-year East coach Amanda Kemezys was proud of her team, which finished 20-10.
“It hurts right now; I won’t be able to sleep for probably a few weeks,” Kemezys said. “But I’m proud of what we’ve done throughout the season and accomplished. Coming into the season, we were a group that had a lot of talent, but had to figure out how to jell. We kept telling them, ‘Keep plugging away and it will work out.’ That’s exactly what happened.”
Lancers sophomore Myriah Haywood scored on back-to-back baskets to close the half, the second one coming with one second on the clock, to bring East within 22-21 at halftime.
The Lancers tied the game at 22 on a free throw by senior Morgan St. James early in the third quarter, but the Tigers reeled off the next 11 points to lead 33-22 with five minutes remaining in the period. Pranger hit three consecutive shots to spark the surge.
East got a 3-pointer from senior Tamar Mosby and a basket by Haywood to make it 33-27, but the Tigers again scored the next 11 points to make it 44-27.
“That’s what Edwardsville does to you,” Kemezys said. “A lot of teams are playing them closer this year, but then the margin all of a sudden skyrockets. All of a sudden, the lid goes on our basket and they take advantage of every single mistake you make. Kudos to them. They’re just a solid team. They make few mistakes and they capitalized on yours.”
The Lancers had one more run, cutting a 50-31 deficit early in the fourth quarter to 55-43 with 2:20 to play, but could get no closer.
“They’re so explosive. They really are, just with their quickness and their athleticism,” Blade said. “When some of them get going, they’re going to be hard to stop. I was really glad we had some separation in there.”
Silvey was 8-for-9 from the free-throw line, while Pranger was 9-for-11. Overall, Edwardsville was 20-for-26 from the line. East was just 13-for-26 on free throws.
Edwardsville junior Criste’on Walters also reached double figures with 10 points despite foul trouble and becoming ill in the third quarter.
Haywood led the Lancers with 15 points. Senior Ellisha Davis had eight and senior Morgan St. James added seven. St. James had scored 85 points in East’s four previous games.