On a night where defense definitely had the upper hand, Carlyle had the best defender on the floor.
Indians senior Alex Valezaquez held Wesclin scoring leader Jarad Steenbergen without a point and Connor Toennies scored 18 for Carlyle in a 46-37 semifinal victory at the Class 2A Wesclin Regional.
“It’s about surviving and advancing and that’s what we were able to do,” said Carlyle coach Andy Paler, whose 15-16 squad will be a heavy underdog at 7 p.m. Friday in the regional title game against top-seeded Central (25-5). “We told them before the game all we want is to get to Friday and give yourselves a chance. We have no pressure on us.
“We’re not supposed to win, so hopefully we’ll come out and play free and easy.”
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The points didn’t come free and easy early for Carlyle, which missed 11 of 12 shots in the first quarter and was held scoreless for much of that eight-minute span.
Toennies, a 6-foot-5 junior, scored eight straight points for the Indians in the fourth quarter to help build upon a four-point lead.
“He hit big shots,” said Wesclin coach Brent Brede, whose team was 1-for-13 from beyond the 3-point arc. “He hit some tough shots, some 15-footers and fadeaways. I’ll give him a lot of credit, he made big shots when he needed to and we didn’t.”
Velazquez and Dru Johnson helped limit Steenbergen, who was averaging 13.2 points, scoreless. Wesclin senior center Jake Stephens hurt the Indians inside with 16 points, but that was a tradeoff Palmer was more than willing to accept.
“We made the gamble, we weren’t going to help in there on Stephens and just let Connor go one-on-one,” said Palmer, whose team split two Cahokia Conference games with Wesclin this season. “We wanted to stick with that because as soon as you go to help in there they’ve got so many guys that can shoot it. We watched film and every time we helped in there last time on them they’d kick it out and hit a big three.
“We just trusted Connor to be good enough to handle him one-on-one and I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Velazquez was rarely more than an arm’s reach away from Steenbergen, a quick guard in his own right.
“It was a great feeling,” Velazquez said. “He’s a great player and the last few times I guarded him he scored over 10 points every time. We let Connor do his job down low and we stuck to the perimeter defense and everything worked out.
“It’s a good feeling to be in the regional final with them.”
Jared Timmermann added 12 points for Wesclin, which led 19-18 at halftime. Carlyle scoring leader Maverick Taylor was held to a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter.
“Offensively for the most part we didn’t play like seniors,” Brede said. “I think we played tight, I don’t think we played with a real sense of urgency. I thought we did a pretty good job defensively, (but) we couldn’t rebound with them and they were more physical than we are.
“Offensively we didn’t have enough flow. We didn’t have enough guys who were willing to get shots or take big shots.”
Central 59, Southwestern 36
Senior guard Logan Kohrmann scored 24 of his game-high 26 points in the first three quarters and Central weathered a rough first half to advance to the finals.
Kohrmann caught fire for 11 points in the third quarter as Central (25-5) broke open a 24-24 game by outscoring the Piasa Birds 21-14. Central senior Chase Schneider drained three of his four 3-pointers during the second half to help the Cougars pull away.
“We stepped up and made enough plays,” Central coach Jeremy Shubert said. “I was disappointed in the way we handled thing sat times, but you’ve got to give those guys credit. Logan was much of our only offense for the first half and we didn’t ball fake enough like we talked about.
“We’ve got to shoot more free throws.”
Up 16-9 late in the first quarter, the Cougars watched the lead slip away as Southwestern outscored them 13-8 in the second quarter to battle back for a 24-24 tie.
The Piasa Birds tied it 22-22 on a 3-pointer by Collin Baumgartner and were aided in their comeback by Central’s 4-for-12 shooting performance in the second quarter.
Baumgartner led Southwestern (14-15) wityh 14 points and Ben Lowis added 13. Tyler Joest and Jack Strieker had eight points each for Central.
Gibault 62, Bunker Hill 51
Gibault junior Trevor Davis scored 31 points and added 13 rebounds as the Hawks (21-9) set up a third meeting with Metro-East Lutheran (25-5) in the Bunker Hill Regional on Friday with a semifinal win Thursday over host Bunker Hill. The Hawks trailed at halftime, but pulled away by outscoring Bunker Hill 25-11 in the third quarter. Metro-East Lutheran has beaten Gibault twice this season.