SALEM — The odds may have been stacked against the Civic Memorial Eagles on Thursday in the Class 3A Salem Regional finals, but they were up to the task to overcome them.
CM, the No. 4 seed in the Sub-Sectional, knocked off top-ranked Salem 63-54 to hand the Wildcats their first loss at B.E. Gum Gym this season and give head coach Janet Holst a loss in her final game at the helm of the program. It also secured the fourth straight regional crown for the Eagles.
CM improved to 21-10 on the season with the win and now advances to the Benton Sectional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Monday against the Columbia Regional champ. Benton and Waterloo square off at 7 p.m. Friday to determine that champion.
Salem closes its season at 26-6 and 14-1 on its home court.
“The first time we played them early in the season we were two different teams,” CM head coach Jonathan Denney said. “It was a similar game except they made more plays than we did and they took it from us and we wanted a little bit of revenge. We knew it was going to be tough on their home court, but I can't say enough about our girls and how they came out and played in the first half, knocking down shots and the effort we gave at the end. Our defensive and rebounding effort was just incredible.”
It was a great effort across the board for the Eagles. Junior Allie Troeckler proved why she's an all-stater, scoring a game-high 28 points to accompany 12 rebounds and a solid defensive effort, while sophomores Alaira Tyus and Kaylee Eaton complemented her with 14 and 13 points respectively.
“(Troeckler) makes plays and I'm glad she's on my team,” Denney said. “When we need a play just get the ball in her hands and hopefully she's going to make it. She had a phenomenal game, but I think the supporting cast was key tonight.
“(Tyus and Eaton) are capable of scoring that every night and I try to pump them up. They are sophomores and they've had their ups and downs, but Eaton seems to save her best games for regional championships. Last year she was great against Highland and Tyus has been capable of doing that all season and she's had a rough season, so I'm really happy to see her play well tonight and really give us an edge.”
An emotional Holst, who was coaching her final game with the Wildcats after 21 years at the helm, thought CM played a solid game.
“It wasn't a surprise to us, we know Civic very well,” Holst said. “We've had a lot of history and it's always been a good battle. Their kids stepped up and made some big plays and that's what they needed them to do at this time of the season.”
The night kicked off in a tight affair. CM jumped out to a 10-6 lead, highlighted by treys from Katelyn Turbyfill and Tyus, but Salem answered and when the first quarter ended the score was tied at 12-12.
The Eagles continued their torrid 3-point shooting in the second quarter, nailing four more long-distance shots. Eaton and Tyus each hit a pair from beyond the arc. Overall, the Eagles were 6 of 8 from 3-point land in the first half.
With 3:13 to play CM owned its biggest lead of the game at 28-21 after Eaton's second trey in the quarter.
“The (3-pointers) were definitely big,” Tyus said. “We were making mistakes but those were shots we know we can make and we were just knocking them down.”
But the Wildcats wouldn't disappear. They clawed back and when Maddi Hood buried a 3-pointer with 39 seconds to go, Salem whittled the deficit to 30-27 entering the break.
Holst was confident her team was in striking distance heading into the locker room after surviving the 3-point barrage by the Eagles.
“I felt like they weren't going to shoot that hot in the second half and they cooled off a little bit,” she said.
Troeckler swung the momentum pendulum in the waning seconds of the first half. Dearria Watson, Salem's 6-foot-1 senior center, had scored 12 first-half points and pulled up for a short jumper to bring the Wildcats within one, but Troeckler skied to block the shot to the delight of the Eagles.
“(Troeckler) doesn't just make plays on the offensive end, she's a great defender too and I think that gets overlooked because of her numbers on the offensive end,” Denney said.
Troeckler added, “Coming in we were fighting, I was fighting and I knew we had to give it our all. Being able to step up on defense and get those stops is what really helped us keep pushing forward and keep fighting.”
CM enjoyed some breathing room to start the second half, scoring the initial five points of the third quarter to build a 35-27 advantage. The Eagles never fell behind, or allowed the Wildcats draw even after the first quarter.
Troeckler poured in 11 points in the third, helping CM nab a 48-41 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Salem sliced it to 53-51 with 3:13 to play in the game on a shot by Trinity Meadows, but the Eagles were able to get going at the free throw line and sustain their lead.
After starting just 1 of 6 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, CM hit 10 of 15 free throws over the final three minutes to secure the win.
Back in the sectional for the fourth consecutive season, Denney is proud of how the program has grown. The Eagles had never one a regional title before the current stretch. Denney is 197-105 in his 10 seasons with the program.
“Our girls take pride in that,” Denney said of the four regional titles. “The seniors, I know they didn't play as freshmen — Turbyfill dressed — but their four years here in the program they can say they won the regional every year and that's big. It's not easy coming out of the south with teams like Salem and Highland and those type teams. I'm proud of our team overall for the effort on both ends of the floor.”
CLASS 3A SALEM REGIONAL
CM 63, SALEM 54
Eagles 12 18 18 15 — 63
Wildcats 12 15 14 13 — 54
CM (21-10) — Allie Troeckler 28, Kaylee Eaton 13, Alaira Tyus 14, Katelyn Turbyfill 6, Kalyn Troxell 2. 2FG — 13 3FG — 7 FT — 16 PF — 11.
Salem (26-6) — Maddi Hood 20, Emily Maxey 3, Trinity Meadows 6, Dearria Watson 15, Kelly Sager 8, Haley Gregg 2. 2FG — 13 3FG — 7 FT — 7 PF — 18.