HIGHLAND — All good things must come to an end, unfortunately for the Civic Memorial Eagles it ended a little sooner than they would have liked.
CM fell 36-31 to Massac County in what turned out to be a physical, defensive battle in the Class 3A Highland Sectional finals on Thursday. The Eagles completed their impressive season at 26-7, while the Patriots improved to 21-8 and advance to the Springfield Super Sectional at 7 p.m. Monday against Rochester. Rochester defeated Normal University 40-39 in the Rochester Sectional finals on Thursday.
CM head coach Jonathan Denney just thought the game with Massac County was a physical one and the Eagles didn't do quite enough to overcome it.
“I just didn't think we executed offensively well tonight,” Denney said. “We hold a team to 36 points and I always say if we can hold a team under 50 I like our chances because we're usually a lot better offensively. We were just a little unsure with the ball. They got up in our personal space a little bit and we talked about that before heading in. We wanted to sweep and attack that and we didn't do a very good job at that. We let them guard us and take us out of our comfort zone a little bit and it screwed up our execution.”
Even with that the Eagles were tied with the Patriots 7-7 after one quarter and led 14-13 at the break. A shot by Allie Troeckler pushed CM's lead to 16-13 at the 6:33 mark of the third quarter, but that's when Massac County turned in the run of the game. The Patriots marched on a 10-0 spurt and shot in front 23-16.
“I don't know (what happened),” Massac County head coach Keith Shelton said with a chuckle. “When they fall, they fall. It's nothing I'm doing, it's what they're doing.”
Denney added, “That third quarter we didn't make any shots, but really I don't think we defended very well in that quarter and that kind of cost us, too.”
Kaylee Eaton drained a 3-pointer to get it back to 23-19, but the Patriots closed out the third quarter on a 6-1 run to own a 29-20 lead entering the final eight minutes.
Massac County led 32-24 when CM made a valiant run to get back into the game. A basket by Kalyn Troxell, another trey from Eaton and 2-point field goal by Troeckler dwindled it to 32-31 with just 1:30 to play, but the Eagles couldn't get over the hump. Four free throws by the Patriots' Gracyn McBride sealed the 36-31 victory.
“I thought if we keep going we could get it and then they pulled ahead a little more and time was running down and we just couldn't get it back,” Troeckler said.
Shelton thought his squad came in as the underdog and was ecstatic to see them up to the challenge.
“I felt like we were a little bit of the underdog,” said Shelton. “Just from everything online and everybody kind of saying that they would walk away with it and I know my kids. We played the No. 25 team in the country for three quarters and they ended up beating us by 17, but we had it cut to nine. I think our trip to Florida with our seniors we really came together and this crew the last seven or eight games has really learned to play with some patience and I think you saw that tonight. It looks like we're not doing anything, but it's like I told them yesterday in practice, 'If we've got the ball, they can't score and we don't want Troeckler to have the ball.' She is probably the best kid we've played all year.”
Denney was pleased to see the referees allow such a physical contest to take place on Thursday, but he didn't think the physicalness of the Patriots intimidated the Eagles at all. He said they had seen plenty of physical teams during the season to prepare them for Thursday.
“We played Highland four times, we played Mater Dei, we played Salem twice, we played T-town (Teutopolis), we played Taylorville, we played Collinsville. If you look back at our schedule there were plenty of teams that got after us and played us hard and held us in the 40s,” Denney said. “If you would have told me we'd have 31 tonight I would have never thought that, but I tip my cap to Massac County. They had a great defensive game plan, they stuck to it, they bought in and they played hard. I think the way the game was called they allowed the physicality and at this time of the year I think you should let the games be called like that. The referees did a great job. You'e got to be able to handle it and give a little physicality back yourself and I think at times our youth did rear its ugly head tonight.”
That's the glaring positive to take away from the loss, no seniors are lost on the Eagles. Harboring an entirely underclass roster means everyone returns next year and hopefully hungrier than ever.
“Getting this far, it's frustrating going out right now, but nobody expected us to get this far,” Troeckler said. “Even some of us, we thought we could do it, but we didn't know we could for sure, so looking back to where we came from at the beginning of the year it shows how much we've grown as a team.”
Seven Eagles scored in the loss, led by Troeckler's 15. Eaton had six, Journey Coffman netted three, Kaitlyn Kappler, Alaira Tyus and Troxell all had two and Katelyn Turbyfill chipped in with one point.
Troeckler also logged seven rebounds Thursday, giving her 288 on the season to set the new single-season record for CM. She surpassed Sara (Frankford) Buckley who had 286 in 1991-92. Buckley is the mother of Eagles' freshman varsity player Elizabeth Buckley.
CLASS 3A HIGHLAND SECTIONAL
MASSAC COUNTY 36, CM 31
MASSAC COUNTY 7 6 16 7 — 36
CM 7 7 6 11 — 31
CM (26-7) — Kaitlyn Kappler 2, Journey Coffman 3, Allie Troeckler 15, Alaira Tyus 2, Katelyn Turbyfill 1, Kaylee Eaton 6, Kalyn Troxell 2. 2FG — 9 3FG — 3 FT — 4 PF — 11
MASSAC COUNTY (21-8) — Jessie Douglas 7, Gracyn McBride 14, Emily Hoard 13, Jessica Coakley 2. 2PT — 6 3FG — 4 FT — 12 PF — 11