O’Fallon girls basketball coach Nick Knolhoff didn’t press the panic button when the Panthers started the season with back-to-back losses to Hazelwood Central and defending Class 3A state champion Peoria Richwoods.
Instead, Knolhoff chose to look ahead to the future which following a 49-48 win over Highland in the title game of the Mascoutah Holiday Tournament on Saturday, appears to be a bright one.
Getting 14 points each from Amelia Bell and Ashley Schloer, the Panthers raced out to a 30-17 lead then held off a furious Bulldogs rally as they won the annual holiday event for the second year in a row.
“Hazelwood Central got us by five (points) and then we lost to the defending Class 3A state champions in (Peoria) Richwoods. It wasn’t the start we wanted, but we wanted to improve our schedule. We feel like playing good teams will make us better later in the season,’’ Knolhoff said. “Against Highland, we came out and played very well in the first half.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“But to their credit. They battled back. Fortunately we made enough plays in the end to win the game.’’
The victory was O’Fallon’s sixth in a row and 12th in 13 games after the 0-2 start. The Panthers also defeated Althoff (74-38), Mater Dei (47-44) and Central (42-25) during the three day 16-team tournament.
“The Mascoutah Tournament is always a very good event,’’ Knolhoff said. “Sometimes its nice to play teams you wouldn’t normally play, but East St. Louis was here (Mascoutah) this year and then when you’ve got Belleville East, Mater Dei, Highland and Central also in the tournament, you have to play well in order to win. We did that.’’
O’Fallon, which graduated starters Sydney Thurwalker and Jayla Stubblefield from a team which went 25-5 a year ago, depends on a more balanced attack this season. While Schloer and Bell were in double figures in the title game, Makayla Best (10 points) and Kayla Gordon (9 points) also made big plays.
“We don’t have anyone who is going to score 18-19 points every night. But we do have good athletes and a balanced attack,’’ Knolhoff said. “Amelia (Bell) gives us a presence in the post and Ashley (Schloer) has just been very steady.’’
The Panthers will begin defense of the Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Invitational Tournament at Highland High School beginning Jan. 12. The week long event concludes on Jan. 19.
In other tournaments last week:
Lebanon Christmas Tournament
Looking to add a little more cheer into an already excellent holiday season, the Columbia Eagles fell just short as they dropped a 42-34 decision to Greenville in the title game at Lebanon High School.
Just two weeks after winning the Gibault Candy Cane Classic, the Eagles (14-3) rolled to three wins in the event, including a 57-47 semi-final win over Cahokia Conference rival Freeburg. But Greenville (15-1), behind 19 points from Megan Hallmann, won the title.
Sophia Bonaldi scored nine points to lead Columbia.
Freeburg (12-4) defeated Lebanon (13-6) 44-33 in the third place game while Marissa (13-3) won the consolation title with a 38-36 win over Chester.
Visitation, (Mo.) Tournament
Ranked fourth in the Class 4A state poll, Edwardsville (15-2) rebounded from a semifinal loss to Parkway Central and defeated Kirkwood, Mo. 56-38 in the third place game.
Sydney Harris led the Tigers with 19 points.
Jerseyville Holiday Tournament
High-scoring sophomore Claire Breden scored 15 points as Jersey Community ended the championship hopes of the Triad Knights with a 50-30 win in the title game.
Entering the event with just three wins, Triad (6-8) defeated Alton, McCluer North and Carrollton before falling to the Panthers (12-6).
Heather Rood scored 13 points for Triad.
Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament
Alton Marquette (15-1) overcame a combined 21 points from Columbia’s Jon Peterson and Sam Horner to edge the Eagles 45-41 in the title game at Freeburg High School.
The Eagles (10-5) led 33-29 but were outscored 16-8 by the Explorers in the final quarter to come up short. Peterson led Columbia with 11 points.
Freeburg defeated Triad 57-47 in the third place game, while Civic Memorial nipped Gibault 38-33 in the fifth place contest.
Mater Dei Christmas Tournament
Briarcrest Christian (Tenn.) held Nashville (15-1) in check as it hammered the Hornets 47-28 in the title game at Mater Dei High School.
Ranked first in the Class 2A state poll, Nashvlle wrapped up the top spot in its pool with a 46-32 win over Mater Dei on Friday. Highland (15-2) defeated Mascoutah 68-62 in the third place game, while Central (8-6) defeated Metro East Lutheran 60-46 in the fifth place game.