Belleville West was in unfamiliar territory Friday, knotted in a 20-20 tie late in the second quarter against Moline.
But in a span of 48 seconds, West righted itself on 3-pointers by juniors EJ Liddell and Lawrence Brazil III. The shots ignited a 67-47 victory in the championship game of the Class 4A Pekin Sectional. It's the Maroons' first sectional title since 2003.
"It was amazing," said the 5-foot-11 Brazil, who led all scorers with 19 points and three 3-pointers. "Hitting those two 3s were very important for us because nothing was falling for us at the beginning. Toward the end, everything started falling."
West (29-2) will play West Aurora (25-4) in the Normal Super-Sectional at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Redbird Arena. West Aurora defeated Bolingbrook 82-67 in the championship game of the Romeoville Sectional on Friday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
Moline, also nicknamed the Maroons, managed to stay with West for the first 15 minutes of the game as it used a 3-2 zone that pressured the perimeter. West grabbed a 20-15 lead when junior Keith Randolph Jr. had a putback and Brazil hit a 3-pointer. But senior Ben Monroe scored and junior Drew Wiemers had a 3-point play to pull Moline into a tie it with one minute left.
Liddell popped a 3 from the top of the key, and Brazil added a trey from the right wing just ahead of the buzzer, making it 26-20.
West then scored 19 of the first 21 points in the second half, extending its run to 25-2.
"I walked into the locker room (at halftime) and was happy as all get-out because we were up six," West coach Joe Muniz said, knowing his team was just 10 of 24 from the field against an open shooting background similar to Highland's. "I told them, 'Guys, we will not shoot that bad the second half. We will make shots. Everybody take a deep breath, relax and the shots will go in.'"
Indeed. West was 16 of 23 from the field in the second half to finish 26 of 47 (55 percent). There was nothing Moline (19-8) could do to stem the tide, particularly after West's lead swelled to 45-22 on Liddell's rebound basket with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
"Those two 3s at the end of the first half gave them real separation, and then (West had) the quick start to the second half," Moline coach Sean Taylor said. "Then we had to chase, and we're just not equipped to chase."
After Liddell's 3-pointer made it 23-20, West got the ball back, and Taylor knew it was a huge stop opportunity for Moline. Taylor clenched his fists and raised his arms in the air, imploring his players to dig deep on defense.
But Brazil took the air out of the balloon with his 3 with one second on the clock.
"He made a big one," Taylor said. "He had missed them for most of the first half, but to his credit, he stepped up and made a big one.
"We tried to come back, but they just made too many good plays. They're so well-coached and so talented. They can throw it over the top and they have five guys who can attack."
West was 5 of 15 from beyond the arc, while Moline was just 4 of 23. Moline finished 19 of 52 overall (37 percent).
Liddell finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Senior Malachi Smith had 10 points and Randolph had nine.
Junior Jeff McInnis, who picked up his third foul early in the second quarter, led Moline with 12 points. Wiemers had nine points.
"Our guys guarded the heck out of them," Muniz said. "I thought we guarded really well. ... This is what it's all about."
Brazil, a transfer from Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, said holding the championship plaque was "amazing."
"I've never done that before, so I'm happy to have a chance to do that," he said. "This feels so good. Hard work is obviously paying off for us."
And West hopes the best is yet to come.
"This means a lot. It's been our goal since day one," Smith said of the sectional championship. "I'm glad to finally see this happen. We're not done yet, though. We're planning on way more."