BENTON — The Civic Memorial Eagles are back in familiar territory.
CM defeated host Benton 64-48 in the Class 3A Benton Sectional semifinals at Rich Herrin Gymnasium on Monday to advance to its third consecutive sectional final game. The Eagles will square off with Mississippi Valley Conference rival Highland at 7 p.m. Thursday in a game scheduled to be played in Benton, but could be moved to a location in the metro-east. The Bulldogs advanced by topping Carbondale 63-44 in the other sectional semifinal on Monday.
CM improved to 22-10 on the season with the win, while Benton wrapped up its season at 28-4.
It marks the fifth straight season the Eagles have met Highland in the postseason. The last three years CM has defeated the Bulldogs in the regional finals, but this year the stakes are a little higher.
“It was a regional championship last year and now it's a little more important being the sectional championship,” Eagles' head coach Jonathan Denney said. “We know each other pretty well. We've had three great games with them and they beat us by two points early in the season, six at our place and they beat us by three about a month and a half ago. Two of those games we had double digit leads, so it's really just going to be a matter of who comes out, who executes well, who plays well on the defensive end and who keeps the other team off the offensive rebounds. We're going to have a lot of fun, give it our best and we look forward to the challenge.”
It was all hands on deck Monday, like it has been so far in the postseason. Three Eagles scored in double figures. Allie Troeckler scored a game-high 24 points, while Alaira Tyus netted 14 and Kalyn Troxell punched in 10. Tyus dished out 7 assists to boot, while Troeckler had 4 blocks and Troxell contributed 5 rebounds and a block. Katelyn Turbyfill led on the boards with 6.
But Troeckler had an uncharacteristic first half, only scoring three points on a traditional 3-point play with 7 seconds to go in the second quarter.
Still, CM led 15-13 after one quarter and 28-20 entering the locker room.
“We're there for Allie,” Troxell said. “Allie is an amazing player and when she's down and she's struggling the team's going to come back and do as much as we can to pick her up and get her back to where she is.”
Denney was befuddled by Troeckler's first half. She had only attempted four shots before her 3-point play late.
“I don't know what was wrong with Allie, she didn't look herself in the first half,” Denney said. “They weren't doing anything special to frustrate her. I don't know if there is something bothering her physically that she hasn't told me about, but she just looked out of synch. I tell the girls all the time, not everybody's going to have a good game all the time and you've got to be ready to pick your team up. That's the worst I've seen her play in the first half this season and fortunately we were able to knock some shots down and have a lead going into halftime.”
And it was Tyus and Troxell shouldering the load. Tyus nailed a trio of treys in the first quarter and four altogether in the first half. Troxell had four points off the bench in the first quarter and six in the opening half to help fuel the Eagles.
“Tyus came out and hit some shots for us, big shots in the first half,” said Denney. “We needed that.
“Troxell was very active. She's been hampered by a knee injury that she got right before regionals and she really played her best minutes she's played in about three weeks. Tonight she moved around well and did some good things and that's big. When she plays well we usually win.”
Troxell, a 6-foot-2 senior bound for Illinois Central College, said she felt good Monday and knows every game could be her last and she's not ready for the ride to end yet.
“I play like it's my last game and this could have been our last game and it's going through my mind I need to step it up and be there for my team,” Troxell said. “I need to hit some big shots, get some rebounds and do whatever I can for the team.
“(The knee) hurt definitely last week, but it's fine now and I'm ready to get back in there.”
CM raced out to an 8-2 lead in the first quarter behind a pair of Tyus treys and a bucket from Troxell, but the Rangerettes wouldn't go away. When junior Allie Gischer nailed a 3-pointer with 1:32 remaining in the first, Benton was ahead 13-10.
Fortunately Troxell and Tyus struck again. Troxell buried a basket and Tyus sank her third trey of the quarter to give the Eagles a 15-13 edge when the horn sounded.
It sparked a 10-0 run, as Journey Coffman scored, Troxell added a bucket and Tyus hit another 3-pointer to extend the lead to 22-13 with 5:35 left in the half.
But again Benton hung around, as Kaylee Pedigo hit the front end of two free throws to slice it to 25-20 with 13.4 seconds remaining. The Rangerettes had a chance to cut it to a one possession game but were unsuccessful. Troeckler then contributed her traditional 3-point play and CM led 28-20 at the break.
The Eagles added to that to start the second half, stringing together another 10-0 spree. Turbyfill sank a 3-pointer to start the third quarter and then Troeckler hit consecutive baskets to extend the lead to 35-20 with 6:43 to go and CM led the rest of the way.
Troeckler heated up in the third quarter, contributing 11 points and the Eagles led 48-38 entering the final eight minutes. She went on to score 10 more points in the fourth quarter for 21 second-half points.
“She just didn't look like herself in the first half and I'm going to talk to her to see if there's something physically, or something bothering her,” Denney said. “But that's why we're a basketball team. Tyus picked it up, Troxell picked it up, Turbyfill played great minutes. Everybody knocked some shots down, some free throws down and played significant minutes. I thought (Izzy) Buckley even came off the bench and did a good job. We were in foul trouble that first half and went about 10 deep and I thought all the girls did a good job.”
Troxell expects another good outing Thursday vs. Highland. She knows her and her teammates will have to step it up again, but she thinks they're ready for the test.
“We're a different team now, playing better than we ever have and we're just going to step it up,” she said. “If we play like we know how to play we'll definitely get a win. I'm excited and I'm ready for it.”
CLASS 3A BENTON SECTIONAL
CM 64, BENTON 48
Eagles 15 13 20 16 — 64
Rangerettes 13 7 18 10 — 48
CM (22-10) — Journey Coffman 5, Allie Troeckler 24, Alaira Tyus 14, Katelyn Turbyfill 7, Kalyn Troxell 10, Izzy Buckley 4. 2FG — 13 3FG — 7 FT — 15 PF — 19
Benton (28-4) — Haley Ing 4, Ally Gischer 11, Taylor Mosley 6, Kaylee Pedigo 7, Makala Abney 17, Ebriessa Casey 3. 2FG — 12 3FG — 5 FT — 7 PF — 18