HIGHLAND — The Civic Memorial Eagles first loss of the season came at the hands of the Salem Wildcats 48-39 on Nov. 22 in Salem. A lot has changed since then.
On Monday the Eagles met the Wildcats again in the semifinals of the Class 3A Highland Sectional and promptly dismissed them from the postseason 55-46. CM improved to 26-6 with the win and advances to the sectional championship at 7 p.m. Thursday against Massac County. Massac County bested Mascoutah 41-34 in the other semifinal on Monday.
“We're a completely different team,” CM sophomore standout Allie Troeckler said. Troeckler netted a game-high 27 points. “Back then we didn't know what we were doing really with this team. We'd just started playing together and now we've had a full season and we're a lot better team.”
Salem head coach Janet Holst said it's impossible to compare the two games since they are so far removed from one another. She just thought the Eagles executed better on Monday.
“To me you can't compare the beginning of the year,” Holst said. “I'm sure it's the same for (CM coach) Jonathan (Denney). This is basically the first time we played each other. That was eons ago. Every team has improved a ton. I think we have too. They shot it a little better than we did, Allie is Allie and if can get the ball inside to Dearria Watson, she gets hers, but when you can't get the ball to her and she doesn't draw any contact, doesn't get a call, we don't knock anything down from the 3-point line, they don't counter each other and that's what we were hoping would happen.”
Denney is just happy to see the way his squad is currently playing. They lost to three teams in the regular season, Highland, Salem and Calhoun. The Eagles have now beaten Highland and Salem in back-to-back postseason games while Calhoun has advanced to Class 1A state. He thinks the consecutive victories are a huge confidence boost for CM.
“I just feel it shows how much they've grown over the season and the freshmen and sophomores aren't playing young, they're playing like they're on a mission and I don't think they know any better,” Denney said. “We're just ready to have a lot of fun on Thursday night.”
It didn't start on a high note for the Eagles Monday though. Relentless pressure by the Wildcats forced CM into seven first-quarter turnovers and a 13-8 deficit, while Troeckler was held scoreless over the first eight minutes.
“We knew their pressure was going to get on us and get after us and we didn't really handle it well in the first half and I thought we addressed it made some nice plays in the second half,” Denney said. “We stepped up and executed our offense and did a great job of switching defenses and keeping them off the boards for the most part.”
Troeckler added, “They were face guarding me a little bit at the beginning of the game, so it was a little rough getting open and when I got the ball I was a little afraid to go with it because they were right there. But we started working with it and stopped playing scared and I think that's what did it.”
Salem kept the pressure on in the second quarter, but the Eagles were able to chip away until a bucket from Troeckler put them up 18-17 with 1:53 to play. A Katelyn Turbyfill free throw stretched it to 19-17 before the two teams traded baskets to the break.
Dearria Watson scored to tie it at 19-19, Troeckler hit two more free throws to make it 21-19 and Kelly Sager scored just before the buzzer to knot it at 21-21 entering the locker room.
Shooting just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc in the first half hurt the Wildcats according to Holst. Not hitting shots allowed the Eagles to breakdown the Salem defense, too.
“When you can't get the ball to fall from the perimeter it's really hard to get it into your post and she had two or three kids on her most of the time,” Holst said of Watson. “You hit a couple shots and it's a different ball game, but it didn't and that's what happens. When you can't get anything to fall you can't get into your pressure and when you can't get into your pressure they are getting off of missed shots and it's hard to get a trap or anything. You get a few shots to fall you can get your press set up, but we couldn't do it.”
CM really found its footing coming out of the break. The Eagles started the third quarter on an 8-2 run to mount a 29-23 advantage at the 5:46 mark and when freshman Kaylee Eaton sank a trey with 1.6 seconds left on the clock, CM extended it to 37-27 entering the fourth quarter.
“I think it's because we played as a team more,” freshman Alaira Tyus of the Eagles said. She complemented Troeckler with 10 points. “Some of us were just trying to push it too much and force everything. We won off of teamwork and hustle.”
Salem got as close as seven points twice in the fourth quarter, but couldn't climb any closer. CM marched to the charity stripe 26 times over the final eight minutes, shooting a pedestrian 14 of 26, but in the end it was enough.
Watson paced the Wildcats with 18 points, while Shelby Holst added 12 in the loss.
Turbyfill, who scored six points and fouled out with 1:45 left, did the dirty work for the Eagles. Turbyfill banged inside with Watson much of the game and yanked down 17 rebounds in the win, earning high praise from her coach.
“Turbyfill is our glue, our heart and soul,” Denney said. “She had 17 rebounds tonight. She's our blue-collar worker.”
The Eagles are just happy to live to fight another day, that's what it's all about this time of year and they're ready to do their best on Thursday vs. Massac County.
“Most people didn't think we'd get here, but we knew if we fought and gave it our best basketball all season we could make it this far,” Troeckler said.
CLASS 3A HIGHLAND SECTIONAL
CM 55, SALEM 46
CM 8 13 16 18 — 55
Salem 13 8 6 19 — 46
CM — Kaitlyn Kappler 3, Journey Coffman 6, Allie Troeckler 27, Alaira Tyus 10, Katelyn Turbyfill 6, Kaylee Eaton 3. 2FG — 13 3FG — 2 FT — 14 PF — 12
SALEM — Shelby Holst 12, Sydney Holst 2, Emily Baer 3, Kailey Baer 8, Dearria Watson 18, Maddi Hood 1, Kelly Sager 2. 2FG — 15 3FG — 3 FT — 7 PF — 26