Valmeyer's advancement to the championship game of the New Athens Class 1A Regional depended on a two-pronged attack against the host team.
The Pirates defeated New Athens 48-45 first by opening an early lead with smothering defense and points in transition. Then coach Rick Crossin turned to a strategy of self-preservation.
Valmeyer held off a furious fourth quarter charge by New Athens to earn the win and advance to the regional title game against top-seeded Okawville.
"They fought hard and they weathered the storm. That's what I like most about it, they weathered the storm," Crossin said. "They are a great team and they came at us hard. We weathered it though."
Hunter Brewer completed a three-point play at the foul line to give Valmeyer a 17-point lead, its widest of the night, with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
But with a 16-2 rally — sparked by a pair of three-point baskets from Luke Mueller and six more points from Ryan Reuss — closed the Pirates' margin to 39-37 with 4:19 left.
"We finally got a a couple shots to fall and momentum switched a little bit when we switched our press," said New Athens coach Marc Derwort. "They might have gotten a little tight as well as we started to battle back."
Valmeyer didn't score another field goal the remainder of the game, but converted on nine of 12 free throw attempts. Jared Berning, who didn't didn't attempt a shot from the field in the game, hit two from the line to open a two-possession lead for the Pirates with 34 seconds left.
"Those were big free throws," Crossin said. "Jared also played defense. He was able to help out defending (New Athens senior Drew) Ragland and stick with his own man. I'm really proud of him."
New Athens got a stick-back bucket from Jimmy Kiefer and Hunter Brewer scored on a free throw from Valmeyer to make it a 48-45 game with nine seconds left.
Derwort called a timeout from the New Athens bench to set up a three-point shot to tie the game. With coverage heavy on Reuss — who scored game-high 20 points — and Mueller, Derwort called on Ragland to take the shot.
"We knew they would try to cover — Ryan and Luke, so we thought Ragland might get a look," Derwort said. "He got a pretty good one, we just couldn't get it to fall."
Valmeyer improves to 15-12 and will face Okawville, big winners over Lebanon in the other semifinal, in the regional championship game Friday at 7 p.m.
"They are a good team, everybody knows that," Crossin said. "We'll have our hands full and we'll do the best we can. You never know."
New Athens' season ends at 14-15.
"I'm always proud. They do work hard, they do things right," Derwort said. "It's always tough to talk to seniors. There's nothing you can say to console them. They accomplished a great deal. We won three conference championships while they were here."
Mueller, Ragland and Kiefer each scored eight for New Athens and senior Travis Zapfe added one.
Zach Williams led Valmeyer with 16 points, Ryan Unterseh had 11 and Brewer had 20. Also scoring were Eric Smith with five, Vaugh Larsen with four and Berning with two.
Okawville 64, Lebanon 27
Nine players scored for Okawville, including three in double figures, to lead the Rockets to a commanding 64-27 win over Lebanon in the New Athens 1A Regional semifinals.
Okawville (22-9) stretched a 13-point margin at the end of the first quarter to a 36-11 halftime lead. Lebanon closed the third quarter with a 6-0 run to get within 20, but scored just once more from the field.
The Greyhounds (4-22) were outscored 18-3 the rest of the way.
Noah Frederking and Nick Stubhart each scored a game-high 16 points. Shane Ganz added 12; Alec Wisneski had seven; Mason Drury had four; Brendan Killion, Logan Riechmann and Drew Frederking each scored two; and Brad Fuhrhop scored one.
For Lebanon, Isaac Jones led with 12 points; David Krumsieg had six; Zachary Grob and Noah Reinneck each scored three, and Noah Jones had two.