There has been unrest with the East St. Louis Flyers this season, most notably the dismissal of Tony Young as coach and the appointment of interim coach Hank Harris.
But the Flyers haven’t missed a beat on the floor. They completed a perfect season in the Southwestern Conference on Friday when they outlasted host Collinsville 80-69.
Now East Side (19-6, 14-0) would like to duplicate that success in the postseason. The Flyers are seeded No. 1 in the Class 4A Belleville West Regional and have gone 8-0 against the other teams in the field: No. 2 O’Fallon (17-10), No. 3 Collinsville (18-12), No. 4 Belleville West (9-18) and No. 5 Belleville East (8-18).
East will play West in the regional opener at 7 p.m. Monday, with the winner advancing to meet East Side at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by O’Fallon and Collinsville at 7:30. The winners Tuesday will meet for the championship at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We played Belleville West to a two-point game,” Harris said of a 71-69 win over the Maroons on Feb. 13 in Belleville. “We’ve got to make amends for that and come out and play scrappy like we did (Friday), play smarter like we did (Friday).”
Reminded that the Flyers’ opponent could be East, Harris said: “Either one. Whoever it is, we’ve got to be prepared to win.
“Every team can beat any team on a given night. You just have to be prepared. You’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to be locked in. You’ve got to want to win more than the other team. We can’t come in there and think someone isn’t going to give us a game just because we were undefeated (in the league).”
Jeremiah Tilmon, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, averages 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds to lead the balanced Flyers. Senior Tyrone Riley has been hot of late and is second on the team in scoring average (10.4). Junior Antonio Johnson averages 9.7 points and senior Antony Johnson averages 8.4 points with a team-leading 39 3-pointers.
“It’s a remarkable story,” West coach Joe Muniz said of the Flyers’ run through the SWC. “They’ve played well despite the turmoil that is going on down there. That’s a credit to their kids and a credit to their coaching staff and Coach Harris for being able to get that accomplished. He came in off the streets, with no prior dealings with the kids.”
Harris credits Riley and senior Karon Randolph for keeping the Flyers together.
“The seniors took control,” Harris said of the ownership Riley and Randolph have assumed in the team. “(Riley) is a workhorse. I love him to death. When he gets that ball inside, he just goes to work.”
Harris hasn’t enabled his regulars to get too comfortable. Players who seldom saw the court under Young have received more minutes with Harris at the controls.
“I mixed it up a little bit to get some fire under some people’s butts, and I think it worked,” Harris said after the victory over Collinsville. “We have athletes, and we have to let them play.”
East would love another opportunity against the Flyers, even though the Lancers have been soundly defeated 66-49 and 96-66 by East Side.
“They’ve got size, they’ve got athleticism, they’ve got depth. They’re a very good team,” Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. “If they make the outside shot, they’re going to be tough to beat. (But) you never know. We obviously are an underdog, but we have been playing better and we have been playing with more confidence.”
East is coming off narrow losses to Collinsville (61-58) and Edwardsville (64-59) to close its conference schedule. The Lancers split two games with West during the regular season, losing 45-41 at West and winning 65-53 at East.
Schrader said West’s size is the most difficult thing to face.
“(Tyler) Dancy is a very good player,” Schrader said. “He’s 6-6 and is a wide body. The 6-9 (Will) Presson kid is bigger than us and he presents issues. And then you have 6-5 Eugene Jones, who is a very, very good player. It’s going to be tough playing them at their place, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s obviously a tough regional. We’re looking forward to the opportunity Monday and seeing what happens. I told the kids (Saturday), ‘We’re 0-0. It’s a new season. It’s given us new life and let’s see if we can play better and give ourselves a chance to win.’”
Muniz called the Lancers “a very solid team” led by sophomores Javon Pickett (14.3 points) and Rico Sylvester (11.2 points, 41 3-pointers).
“And they’re playing much better right now,” Muniz said. “We’re going to have to play awfully well to beat them.”
Like Schrader, Muniz would enjoy extending the season by at least one game, even if it does mean facing the Flyers.
“They’re an extremely deep team and they’ve got good size,” Muniz said. “We got them in foul trouble at our place. When most teams get in foul trouble, they’re bringing in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 post (player). They’re bringing in 6-5, 6-6 athletes off their bench.”
Collinsville has dropped both its regular-season games against O’Fallon: 56-51 in O’Fallon and 70-52 in Collinsville.
Kahoks coach Darin Lee said his team won’t have a chance to survive the Panthers if senior Donovan Franklin is allowed to take over. Franklin scored a career-high 36 points against Collinsville in the game at Fletcher Gym.
“Right now, we’re just focused on playing O’Fallon on Tuesday,” Lee said. “The first game, we had them down. The second game, we didn’t play as well and they played better – and Franklin had a great game. We’ve got to find a way to slow him down. We can’t let him get 30-plus and think we’re going to win the game.”
Class 4A Edwardsville Regional: Top-seeded Alton (24-4) will face No. 4 Granite City (11-17) at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a game between No. 2 Edwardsville (17-10) and No. 3 Quincy (16-9) at 7:30. The winners will meet in the title game at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Redbirds beat Edwardsville twice during the regular season, 63-52 in Godfrey and 65-32 in Edwardsville.
Alton seniors Darrius Edwards (13.4 points), Bryan Hudson (12.3 points) and Carlos Anderson (10.2 points) are difficult matchups. Edwardsville, meanwhile, closed the regular season with victories at O’Fallon and Granite City.