The Highland Bulldogs will be out to make a little history on Monday at the Class 3A Springfield Girls Super-Sectional.
Appearing in just its third supersectional — and first since the 2007-08 season — Highland (29-4) will be out to clinch its first ever trip to the state finals when it takes on the Lincoln Railsplitters (22-12) in the Class 3A Springfield Super-Sectional at the University of Illinois-Springfield Arena at 7 p.m.
Co-champions of the Mississippi Valley Conference, Highland ran its current winning streak to 12 on Thursday with a 49-42 win over MVC rival Civic Memorial in the title game of the Benton Sectional as senior Amanda Ponce led the way with 21 points.
Now with his team just hours away from playing the Bulldog program’s biggest game in nearly a decade, coach Mike Arbuthnot wants his team to enjoy the experience.
“When we got done with practice, we were going over some things and one of the things I told the girls is that I want them to be sure enjoy this experience. Enjoy the moment because having the opportunity be part of it is something that doesn’t come around very often,’’ Arbuthnot said. “This is a great group of kids and it’s been a lot of fun coaching them all year. Hopefully it will last a few days longer.”
One of the top Class 3A players in the state, Ponce (16.4 ppg.) leads the Bulldogs in scoring, while juniors Madison Wellen (12.4) and Alex LaPorta (10.6) also average in double figures. But others have also had their moments. Streak shooting Caitlin Lammers added 12 points in the victory over Civic Memorial on Thursday.
While the ‘16 postseason has been one of familiar opponents in Jerseyville, Mascoutah and Civic Memorial, the Bulldogs opponent on Monday — Lincoln — is one Arbuthnot and his Highland staff and players knew little about until the last couple of days.
Lincoln, a perennial Class 3A boys state power, won its first sectional girls title since ‘99 when it defeated (Champaign) St. Thomas More 53-39 on Thursday. The Railsplitters placed fourth in the Class AA State Tournament in ‘99.
Lincoln features a balanced scoring attack which is led by Kaelyn Froebe (15.7), a 5-9 sophomore guard and 5-8 senior Hannah Cameron (9.8 ppg.) But the strength of Lincoln is its defense and is famed 1-2-2 ball press.
“They press and press. The one thing that concerns me is that the 1-2-2 Ball Press is something we don’t see very much of and they (Lincoln) do a good job of creating turnovers off it. We have to be able to handle the basketball and make smart decisions with our passing,’’ Arbuthnot said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guards and their decision making.’’
The winner of the Lincoln-Highland game will advance to the Class 3A State Tournament semifinals on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal. They will play the winner of the River Forest (Concordia University) Super-Sectional game between Johnsburg and (Chicago) North Lawndale Charter at 12:15 p.m. on Friday.
For Arbuthnot the keys to the game on Monday are simple.
“We have to be able to handle their pressure,’’ Arbuthnot said. “Also their guards have good quickness and so when we get rebounds we have to remember to key the ball high and strong so that they can’t strip us of it.’’
In the Class 4A Bloomington Super-Sectional
The (Lisle) Benet Academy Redwings used a 61-50 win over Edwardsville in the Bloomington Super-Sectional to propel them to the Class 4A state title last year. Today on the same Shirk Center court on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University, the 30-1 Edwardsville Tigers would like nothing else then to turn the tables.
Fresh off a 59-42 win over Rock Island in the title game of the Alton Sectional — its ninth sectional title in the last 10 years — the Tigers will put their 26-game winning streak on the line with a berth in the Class 4A State Tournament at stake.
Gametime is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re not looking ahead. This team has been very good about staying in the present. one game at a time,’’ Tigers coach Lori Blade said after the sectional triumph on Thursday.
Looking ahead against the Redhawks (29-3) would no doubt be a costly mistake for the Tigers, who have struggled in recent years in the super-sectional matchup. Benet Academy (29-3) has lost three games — all of which were against teams which will be playing in supersectionals on Monday as well (Homewood-Flossmoor and Chicago Whitney Young in Class 4A) and Chicago Morgan Park (3A).
The Redhawks also feature one of the top players in the state in senior guard Kathleen Doyle. Headed to the University of Nebraska, Doyle averages just under 17 points per game and scored 17 points in the Redwings win over Edwardsville a year ago.
In that game, Benet Academy jumped out to a huge first quarter lead against a young Tigers team which closed to within one point, but couldn’t ever get over the hump, losing an 11-point decision.
Senior guard Elise Stout and junior center Katie Jaseckas are the other returning starters from a year ago. Doyle had 31 points in the 68-60 win sectional title game win over Oswego East.
But the Redwings also have plenty to worry about against the Tigers.
Edwardsville has perhaps one of the top one-two duos in the state in junior Makenzie Silvey (16.3 ppg.) and sophomore Rachel Pranger (16.2), a tough defender and rebounder whose offensive skills are improving quickly in junior Criste’on Waters and a true defensive stopper in sophomore Kate Martin.
Martin (11.7) and Waters (10.4) also average in double figuires.
The winner of the Edwardsville-Benet Academy game will take on the winner of the Hoffman Estates Super-Sectional between Lombard Montini and (River Forest) Trinity at 8:15 p.m. on Friday in one Class 4A state semifinal at Redbird Arena.