COLLINSVILLE — The smallest player on the court made the biggest impact Tuesday night.
And that spelled a memorable sectional victory for the Alton Redbirds.
Meet Ty’ohn Trimble, the Birds’ Little Big Man. The 5-foot-5 junior reserve guard scored a career-best 13 points as Alton upended No. 1-seeded Edwardsville, 63-59, in a semifinal game of the Class 4A Collinsville Sectional.
“He was the difference-maker,” AHS coach Eric Smith said of the spunky, speedy Trimble. “He gave us a spark to get us over the hump.”
A crowd of 2,000 saw the Redbirds improve to 16-10 and get a date against East Moline in the 7 p.m. sectional championship game Friday. East Moline ousted Rock Island, 55-54, in double overtime at Moline in the other sectional semifinal and improved to 23-6. Edwardsville finished 25-5 and suffered its first loss to a Southwestern Conference team this season.
“I have no problem with the way our guys played,” Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo said. “We played a good game, but Alton played very well. And sometimes you get beat even when you play well.”
Trimble served as the catalyst to stir the Redbirds in a game that was tied 9 times and featured a deficit of 2 points or less on 20 occasions. The game was tied at the end of the first quarter (14-14), at half (27-27) and the Redbirds led after three quarters (42-40).
So it was that close, just like the last time when the Tigers prevailed by a single point at AHS.
This time, the Redbirds turned to Trimble as their X factor. His 4 free throws in the final minute kept the Tigers from overtaking them.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever had,” Trimble said. “It’s just exciting to beat them (Tigers) because they beat us the last two games. I was just doing my job and a game like this will give me a lot of confidence.
“I think I can do anything, even at my height.”
He’s listed at 5-9 in the program, but Trimble said he’s closer to 5-5. No matter. His heart is beyond measuring, his teammates insist.
“He was the key to the game,” said Marcus Latham, who pitched in 16 points, 11 in the second half.
Maurice Edwards, the Redbirds’ scoring leader with 18 points, added: “He’s capable of doing that. He came off the bench and played with a lot of confidence.”
Smith quipped: “If he (Trimble) was 6-2, he would have offers from a lot of colleges. He has played well for us all year.”
Alton needed some kind of inspiration because Edwards picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and sat out nearly 9 minutes. He had 4 points at half and then erupted for 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting and 2 free throws the second half.
“Give him (Edwards) a lot of credit,” Waldo said. “He’s hard to defend. Alton made the plays and played an excellent game.”
The Birds made 25 of 47 shots, or 53 percent, and 9 of 12 free throws. They were 9-for-10 from the line in the fourth quarter and connected on 6 of 7 shots from the field in keeping the pressure on the Tigers.
Edwardsville, which trailed 55-49 with 2 minutes remaining, closed to within 57-56 on Chrys Colley’s basket with 32 seconds to go. The 6-2 senior scored a game-high 22 points, while teammate A.J. Epenesa, a 6-5 junior, contributed 18 points and 14 rebounds. Overall, the Tigers made 26 of 45 shots, or 58 percent.
Yet Alton wouldn’t relent. Trimble sank a pair of free throws with 27.8 seconds remaining to make it 59-56 and Edwards added two more foul shots with 13.5 second to go in making it 61-56.
Oliver Stephen of the Tigers connected on a trey with 9 seconds remaining to slice the Redbirds’ advantage to 61-59, but Latham’s pair of free throws 3 seconds later ensured Alton’s victory.
AHS fans poured onto the floor to mob the Redbirds, who are one win from their first sectional championship since 2005. It marks the second straight season Alton has advanced to the sectional final. The Birds have also won sectional titles in 1955, 1997 and 2001, plus a district crown in 1919 that qualified them for state.
“It’s our biggest win of the year,” Latham said. “We lost to them during the regular season, but we were ready to play tonight. We knew we could win the game.”
Edwards said, “We did the little things, we had a good attitude and we stayed positive.”
Smith has seen the Redbirds rally for regional victories over Chatham Glenwood and Quincy, then put it all together for their signature win over Edwardsville. The Tigers were 16-0 this season against conference teams until Tuesday.
“This is exactly how we were playing at the start of the season,” Smith said. “Our guys have come back and battled. They’ve done what they needed to do to get to this point of the season.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to play in a sectional final and we’ve done that. I don’t know if anybody outside of our locker room thought we could do that.”
Paul Harris (10 points) and Kevin Caldwell Jr. (6 points) rounded out the scoring for the Redbirds, who committed only 5 turnovers and had just 10 fouls.
The Birds, riding a four-game winning streak, have vaulted into the Sweet 16. One more win propels them into the Elite Eight, or the Class 4A Normal Super-Sectional next Tuesday at Illinois State University.
“We’re staying together and believing in ourselves,” Edwards said.
CLASS 4A COLLINSVILLE SECTIONAL
ALTON 63, EDWARDSVILLE 59
Alton 14 13 15 21 — 63
Edwardsville 14 13 13 19 — 59
Alton (16-10) — Kevin Caldwell Jr. 6, Marcus Latham 16, Maurice Edwards 18, Paul Harris 10, Ty’ohn Trimble 13. 2FG-21 3FG-4 FT-9 PF-10
Edwardsville (25-5) — Mark Smith 8, A.J. Epenesa 18, Oliver Stephen 7, Chrys Colley 22, Caleb Strohmeier 2, Sammy Green 2. 2FG-22 3FG-4 FT-3 PF-15