EDWARDSVILLE — The Edwardsville Tigers had a plan for the Alton Redbirds Friday, the problem was the Redbirds were ready for it.
EHS attempted to slow the tempo of the game, control the possession time and keep Alton out of its fast-paced rhythm, but AHS was ready for it. The Redbirds never panicked and only trailed 2-0 in the game on their way to a 44-27 victory in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional title tilt.
With the win, Alton improved to 26-4 on the season, while Edwardsville wrapped up the season at 18-11. It's the first regional title for the Redbirds since 2010-11. They beat the Tigers 64-54 in overtime in Collinsville for that regional crown. Since then Edwardsville had advanced to a super-sectional and finished third and fourth at state over the last three seasons.
Now Alton will move forward and prepare for the Collinsville Kahoks. AHS meets Collinsville at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Belleville East in the Pekin Sectional semifinals. The Kahoks upset East St. Louis 58-50 on Friday for the Belleville West Regional championship.
Alton head coach Eric Smith is happy to be advancing. He was ecstatic with his team's effort on Friday.
“It's our seniors,” Smith said. “They've put a lot of time and work and effort in. We've asked them to do a lot of things in the three years I've been here. They work hard and do a lot of stuff in the offseason to get to a point where they can enjoy some success. It's nice to see them reap some of those benefits.”
Senior Carlos Anderson, who led all scorers with 18 points, was excited for the regional title to come against rival Edwardsville. After only beating the Tigers once in his first three years at Alton, Anderson watched the Redbirds beat them for the third time this season on Friday.
“It means a lot, because in my four years we'd only beat them once in my first three years and I was injured,” Anderson said. “We're just blessed to get this opportunity in this environment.”
EHS came out Friday and set the tempo, making sure it would control the possession time and even after trailing 8-4 after the first quarter the momentum looked to be in Edwardsville's favor.
But the high flying Redbirds proved they could be patient and deliberate, too. They led 14-10 at halftime and when Anderson knocked down a 3-pointer with 2:55 to go in the third quarter, it kick started a 9-0 run to close the frame with Alton in front 28-14.
The game was similar to the one the Redbirds lost 45-33 in the Centralia Holiday Tournament finals to the host Orphans. In that slow-moving affair Alton played right into the hands of the Orphans, but that wasn't the case on Friday against the Tigers.
Anderson said Centralia was a learning experience for the Birds and they've matured a lot since then.
“Centralia was a learning experience and we grew as a team and we came closer together,” he said. “We said, 'We have to do it this way and this and that and come together when a coach throws that kind of play at us.' We just have to be disciplined.”
Edwardsville head coach Mike Waldo was in Centralia to watch that game between the Orphans and Redbirds. He thought the difference on Friday was a couple of timely 3-pointers by Anderson. His first one at 6:59 of the second quarter expanded Alton's lead from two to five points and his second in the third quarter took it from a five-point advantage to an eight-point lead.
“The difference in that game at Centralia is they didn't make any perimeter shots,” Waldo said. Alton had one trey against Centralia. “Tonight they made some threes and Anderson's two threes really hurt. In that (Centralia) game they got behind early. Our style of offense in (tonight's) game if they would have really had to get all over us I think we could have made some more layups, but they never had to really get all over us because they always had the lead.”
With the Redbirds proving they could play a more deliberate style to go along with their running style was huge according to Smith. It gives AHS a different dimension heading forward in the playoffs.
“It's satisfying to me that we can talk to our kids about playing a certain way and being able to adapt to certain things,” Smith said. “Teams are going to try and do different things against us and our kids did a wonderful job doing what they needed to do. They stayed focused, they stuck to coach (Andre) McMurray's game plan defensively and they did what they needed to do offensively.
“Everybody just labels us as a bunch of run-and-gun athletes and we like that. That's the way we'd like to play because it's fun, but if we've got to sit down and dig our heels in and throw the first punch we can do that.”
Waldo discussed Alton's multiple weapons and the different ways those players can attack on offense and defense as a key factor on Friday, too.
“Defensively they're good and offensively they use their personnel very well,” Waldo said. “Their delay game is pretty good, too and you know that's not cheating, not shooting. When we had to come out and get them it made it hard because they have good guard play and when we had to start chasing them around we gave up some stuff around the basket and you knew that could happen. You have to give them credit, they play good.”
The Tigers were paced by A.J. Epenesa's 16 points. He was the only Edwardsville player with more than three points.
Anderson was joined in double figures by Isaiah Thurmond's 11 points. Darrius Edwards chipped in eight and Bryan Hudson netted seven to help lead the way for AHS.
Now the Redbirds will prepare for Collinsville, which will provide matchup problems with its bigs, notably 6-foot-8 Indiana State recruit Emondre Rickman, on Tuesday.
“It will be a dogfight,” Smith said. “Their bigs are really good and they have kids that can shoot it so it will be a dogfight.”
CLASS 4A EDWARDSVILLE REGIONAL
ALTON 44, EDWARDSVILLE 27
Edwardsville 4 6 4 13 — 27
Alton 8 6 14 16 — 44
ALTON (26-4) — Darrius Edwards 8, Carlos Anderson 18, Bryan Hudson 7, Isaiah Thurmond 11, Maurice Edwards 3. 2FG — 14 3FG — 2 FT — 9 PF — 11
EDWARDSVILLE (18-11) — Dan Marinko 3, Mark Smith 3, Oliver Stephen 2, A.J. Epenesa 16, Monty Sharpe 2. 2FG — 10 3FG — 1 FT — 3 PF — 15