GODFREY — When it appeared the Alton Redbirds drifted into a danger zone against Quincy on Friday, they swiftly changed directions.
And they found their way by timely rediscovering their strength and spirit. All it took was a power-packed finish.
The Redbirds used a furious fourth quarter rally to overtake Quincy, 66-62, in the championship game of the Class 4A Alton Regional.
“It’s the biggest win we’ve ever had,” said senior Marcus Latham, a 12-point performer.
Junior Maurice Edwards, the game’s top scorer with 24 points, added: “It’s definitely the biggest win of the season.”
Head coach Eric Smith pointed out, “Any time you win a regional, it’s a big deal.”
Alton did it in a monumental way. The third-seeded Redbirds scored the game’s final 13 points in overturning a 62-53 Blue Devils’ advantage with 4:11 remaining. Second-seeded Quincy even led 53-40 late in the third quarter, but Alton refused to buckle.
“It’s really a good feeling because people were doubting us and we proved them wrong,” Edwards said.
Now, armed with their second consecutive regional title, the 15-10 Redbirds move on to the Collinsville Sectional. They will play 25-4 Edwardsville, the East St. Louis Regional champion at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Vergil Fletcher Gym. The Tigers, who have won 18 of their last 19 games, eliminated Belleville East, 67-60, on Friday for their regional title.
“Any time you get an opportunity to play in a sectional, it’s pretty special,” Smith said.
Thanks to their remarkable comeback, the Redbirds can keep their special season going. They outscored the visitors 23-9 in the fourth quarter to shock Quincy, which finished 21-6.
“They turned it up at the end of the game,” Blue Devils’ coach Andy Douglas said of the Redbirds. “Alton did a great job. They got inside on us and their shots went in during the fourth quarter.”
Douglas noted, “The ball also didn’t bounce our way at times. In a game like this one, you have to execute the entire game, not just bits and pieces.”
The Blue Devils found themselves clinging to a 62-57 lead with just over 3 minutes to play, but the Redbirds were far from finished. Edwards kept the ball rolling.
His steal and slam dunk cut Quincy’s lead to 62-59.
“Maurice really got the crowd hyped up with that play,” Latham said.
Teammate Kevin Caldwell Jr. pitched in a free throw with 1:30 to go and the Redbirds got to within 62-60. Then Edwards saved a ball from going out of bounds and flipped it to Latham, who converted a traditional 3-point play with 1:24 remaining, giving AHS a 63-62 edge.
Quincy didn’t know it at the time, but the Blue Devils would never regain the lead. Latham sank two more free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining and Edwards added a final one with 1.4 seconds to play and the Redbirds celebrated their 22nd regional championship in school history. No fewer than 9 of them have come since 1996.
This one proved quite satisfying, Smith said.
“It’s one of the most gratifying wins because we knew the kids had an opportunity to do something special,” he said. “We have some good players and we think we have a shot of winning every night we play.”
Edwards said the Redbirds rallied around each other in their time of need during the final four minutes
“We all stayed together, played hard and played as a team,” he said. “We fought back to win and kept our focus.
“It means the world to us to win the regional and we are glad to get another shot at Edwardsville.”
The Birds had plenty of players contribute to the cause. Caldwell punched in 11 points, 8 during in the second half. Paul Harris scored 9 points before he fouled out with 4:11 remaining. Tre Smith had 8 points.
Edwards made 9 of 14 shots, a pair of them treys, to go along with two dunks. His 15 second-half points spurred the Redbirds time and time again.
“He (Edwards) took over their game Wednesday against Chatham Glenwood,” said Douglas, pointing to Edwards’ buzzer-beating shot to win it. “I had nightmares he would take over the game against us and that’s what he did.”
While the Redbirds made 24 of 54 shots, the Blue Devils hit 25 of 58 field-goal tries. Alton outscored Quincy 13-7 at the foul line and the Redbirds made only 8 turnovers and committed just 11 fouls.
Mike Dade, a 5-9 senior guard, led Quincy with 19 points, with a dozen of them coming on 4 treys. Parker Bland (12 points), Jake Jobe (11 points) and Garrett Gadeke (10 points) also scored in double figures for the Blue Devils.
Yet they made 4 of 15 shots in the first quarter after going 21-for-43 from the field the first three quarters. So the fourth quarter — and ultimately the game — went to the Redbirds.
“I’ve been telling people we have some special kids and they showed that tonight,” Smith said. “We talked all week about being stubborn and they didn’t give in when they could have done that.”
Edwards said, “We played smart and we played our game.”
CLASS 4A ALTON REGIONAL
ALTON 66, QUINCY 62
Alton 17 10 16 23 — 66
Quincy 22 12 19 9 — 62
Alton (15-10) — Kevin Caldwell Jr. 11, Marcus Latham 12, Maurice Edwards 24, Tre Smith 8, Paul Harris 9, Jordan Golley 2. 2FG-19 3FG-5 FT-13 PF-11
Quincy (21-6) — Jake Jobe 11, Parker Bland 12, Garrett Gadeke 10, Mike Dade 19, Cameron Gay 5, Carson Gay 2, Deven Smith 3. 2FG-20 3FG-5 FT-7 PF-18