ROXANA — The Civic Memorial Eagles completed the first piece of the postseason puzzle on Thursday — a regional championship.
The Eagles defeated the Triad Knights 66-43 to capture the Class 3A Roxana Regional title and improve to 29-2 on the season. Triad closed its campaign at 13-13.
It was the fifth consecutive regional crown for CM and head coach Jonathan Denney knows it’s just the first step in the ultimate goal — a trip to state and a chance at a state title.
Next up for the Eagles is Murphysboro at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Waterloo Sectional. Murphysboro defeated Benton 43-41 Thursday to capture the Herrin Regional championship.
“As a parent, it’s like a Christmas present for your kid, you’ve got four steps to get it put together for Christmas morning and tonight was step one,” Denney said. “We’re moving on to step two next week.”
Step one didn’t come without some adversity. The Knights came out of the gates playing energized. They defended the Eagles very well.
The game plan was to limit looks for CM standouts Allie Troeckler and Kaylee Eaton and they did that early.
But while containing them the game was still knotted at 15-15 at the end of the first quarter because Triad didn’t have an answer for the sister combo of Alaira and Kourtland Tyus. The Tyus sisters accounted for 13 of CM’s 15 points in the opening frame — Alaira with 8 and Kourtland with 5.
For the game, Alaira finished with a game-high 21. Kourtland ended up with 12.
“I’m not going to lie, the game plan was to key on Troeckler, key on Eaton and both the Tyus girls (Alaira and Kourtland) stepped up and that’s what a good team does,” first-year Knights’ head coach Stephanie Potthast said. “You pick your poison with them and those two girls stepped up.”
Denney credited the siblings for stepping up with strong efforts in the win.
“We’ve got two great players in Troeckler and Eaton, who have had great seasons, but Alaira Tyus and Kourtland Tyus are pretty good basketball players, too,” Denney said. “If they’re going to give them those shots teams are going to regret it. They’re pretty locked in and they’re going to play well.
“(Alaira) is a big factor for us and I’m proud of her.”
Alaira said she knew she had to step up to help her team, it was as simple as that.
“I just did what I was supposed to do,” Alaira Tyus said. “I haven’t been playing like that all season, but it’s something I could have done. I guess I was just feeling it tonight.”
For Kourtland, just a freshman, her biggest moments came in a 9 second span in the second quarter when she knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Eagles up 27-20 at the time.
“I thought that picked us up,” Kourtland said. “I was getting into it and I just couldn’t help but smile with my teammates.”
Kourtland’s pair of treys sparked a 19-1 run that helped put the game away.
Her 3-pointer at the 3:43 mark of the second quarter kicked it off and CM closed the first half on a 10-1 scoring spree to take a 31-21 advantage into the break.
The Eagles kept soaring to open the third quarter, extending their lead to 40-21 at the 6:59 mark of the third quarter on a bucket by Eaton.
“I thought the execution was great headed into halftime and then our defense just really picked up the pace in the second half and that was the difference in the game,” Denney said.
The defense was stifling on the Knights to open the third quarter. CM turned them over on 8 of their first 9 possessions, fueling the offensive run. Triad coughed it up 11 times in the third quarter and 22 times in the game.
Denney understands how key the defense is to advance in the postseason.
“Our girls looked like piranhas during the first four minutes of that second half,” he said. “Defense is going to win championships.”
The Eagles owned a 55-34 lead after three quarters and cruised to the win. They finished with four players in double digit scoring. Eaton netted 16 and Troeckler scored 12 to complement the Tyus sisters.
For the junior Alaira, it was the third regional title of her prep career, but she understands it’s just the beginning of what her and her teammates want to accomplish.
“We know we can do it, it’s just doing all the work and trying to get further than the regionals,” Alaira said.
Kourtland added about her first regional crown, “It felt really special coming in my freshman year and playing with such great teammates.”
Fellow freshman Anna Hall was back on the sidelines Thursday. She was wearing a neck brace after suffering a scary neck injury in Tuesday’s win over Cahokia where she had to leave the game on a stretcher. There is no timetable for her return, but there was no major damage. She is day-to-day.
“She’s meant a lot to this team and she worked hard all season,” Kourtland Tyus said.
CLASS 3A ROXANA REGIONAL
CM 66, TRIAD 43
Eagles 15 16 24 11 — 66
Knights 15 6 13 9 — 43
Eagles (29-2) — Hannah Schmidt 3, Kourtland Tyus 13, Allie Troeckler 12, Kaylee Eaton 16, Alaira Tyus 21, Tori Pfeifer 1. 2FG — 15 3FG — 10 FT — 6 PF — 16.
Knights (13-13) — Heather Rood 5, Hannah Johnson 6, Ali Barisch 8, Morgan Chigas 5, Molly Suess 17, Caleigh Miller 2. 2FG — 13 3FG — 2 FT — 11 PF — 11.