JERSEYVILLE — The fourth time was a charm for the Civic Memorial Eagles on Thursday.
After falling to Mississippi Valley Conference rival Highland three times in the regular season, CM bested the Bulldogs 63-56 in the Class 3A Jersey Regional title tilt. It's the third straight regional championship for the Eagles.
They improved to 25-6 on the season with the win. Highland finished their season at 27-4.
All three of CM's loss to the Bulldogs had been by double figures prior to Thursday. But with a roster full of all underclassmen, head coach Jonathan Denney hoped his team wouldn't grasp the magnitude of the fourth meeting.
“We're just naïve enough not to care,” Denney said. “And we're playing our best basketball here at the end of the season and I think it's showed in the last two weeks.”
While it was sophomore sensation Allie Troeckler stepping up with a game-high 23 points to lead the way, the Eagles understood it was going to take more than that to win. That's where freshman Kaylee Eaton came in. Eaton complemented Troeckler with 16 points, including 4 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc and two clutch 3s to start the fourth quarter.
“Eaton has no conscience,” Denney said. “Early in the season she thought it was NVC, not MVC and that right there told me we were just naïve enough maybe to pull off something special and sure enough she's the one to hit the big shots. Kudos to her.”
Eaton said she felt good shooting on Thursday.
“The last time we played Highland I felt like I shut down, but this time I wanted to make sure they knew that I'm not just a freshman,” Eaton said. “I was like, 'Give me the ball.'”
The game saw six ties and seven lead changes, including a 25-25 tie at the break. CM's Journey Coffman broke the last tie with 5:02 to go in the third quarter with a 3-pointer to put the Eagles up 35-32. CM sank seven treys in the game.
After building a 43-37 lead with 1:48 to go in the third, Highland got a traditional 3-point play from Amanda Ponce and a bucket from Olivia LaPorta to slice it to 43-42 as the quarter ended.
Eaton opened the final eight minutes with treys at 7:26 and 6:41 to push the Eagles' lead to 49-42 and the Bulldogs would never get closer than four points again.
“I was just trying to help the team out because I knew we needed a big lead, so I was trying to help out,” Eaton said.
Troeckler understood the gravity of her teammates' contributions vs. Highland and was glad to see Eaton step up in the clutch situation.
“Highland face guarded me tonight and when they didn't they knew where I was, so as soon as I got the ball, if I got the ball, I was looking for an open teammate because I knew they would be there,” Troeckler said. “I told everybody winning or losing we've got to stay strong and that's what I tried to do tonight.”
Highland head coach Mike Arbuthnot thought CM simply did the same thing the Bulldogs had done in the previous three meetings.
“I knew going in this was going to be a hell of a ballgame, because the first three games we'd played against them had been great ballgames and what they did to us is what we'd done to them in that middle of the third quarter where you start hitting shots and making some plays and getting some loose balls,” Arbuthnot said.
Highland opened the game with a 11-4 lead and looking in control, but a trey and a basket by Troeckler dwindled it to 11-9 when the first quarter ended.
A bucket by Troeckler at 6:48 of the second quarter gave the game its first tie at 13-13. LaPorta gave the Bulldogs a 25-23 lead with a basket with 1:17 to go in the half, but Alaira Tyus sank two from the charity stripe to tie it at 25-25 with 45.6 seconds to go. That's the way it remained entering the locker room.
While the win was extra sweet for the Eagles, it was bittersweet for Highland. The winner advanced to the Highland Sectional at 6 p.m. Monday and awaits the winner of the Olney Regional, which pits Salem and Effingham against each other on Friday night.
Getting back home in front of the Highland fans was a big goal for the Bulldogs.
“That was our goal, no doubt about it,” Arbuthnot said. “We set out a lot of goals at the beginning of the year and we attained all of them besides this one and it's gut wrenching. There is nothing I can tell the girls and nothing that's going to change the way they feel. It's a special group of young ladies and they gave everything they had from the summer to now and it hurts me to see them in this much pain.”
For Denney the feeling was a lot different after the win, but he gave plenty of props to Highland for its strong season.
“First and foremost I've got the upmost respect for Mike Arbuthnot and the Highland girls,” Denney said. “That's a great group of kids and they had a great season, but at the same time we're playing with pride, too. They took something from us in the Mississippi Valley Conference and I told these girls there would be nothing sweeter than playing the sectional on Highland's home court and they went out and got the job done tonight and we get that opportunity.”
Troeckler added, “It feels so amazing. We wanted to win the conference, but we'd rather have the regional championship than the conference and playing the sectional on their court just makes it that much better.”
CLASS 3A JERSEY REGIONAL
CM 63, HIGHLAND 56
CM 9 16 18 20 — 63
Highland 11 14 17 14 — 56
CM (25-6) — Journey Coffman 4, Allie Troeckler 23, Alaira Tyus 9, Katelyn Turbyfill 8, Kalyn Troxell 1, Kaylee Eaton 16, Elizabeth Buckley 2. 2FG — 10 3FG — 7 FT — 22 PF — 12
HIGHLAND (27-4) — Amanda Ponce 11, Emily Vonderhaar 6, Bailey Leitschuh 4, Olivia LaPorta 17, Mackenzie Kleinmann 6, Madison Wellen 12. 2FG — 14 3FG — 6 FT — 10 PF — 23