BENTON — Different venue, same result.
The Civic Memorial Eagles tried to change their luck against the Highland Bulldogs in Thursday’s championship game of the Class 3A Benton Girls’ Basketball Sectional.
Highland, however, ensured it was a similar outcome for the fourth time this season. The Bulldogs defeated the Eagles, 49-42, for a sectional title and a berth in Tuesday’s University of Illinois at Springfield Super-Sectional against Lincoln.
“It hurts and it stings,” CM coach Jonathan Denney said. “This game was like the other ones this season. It could have gone either way.
“But if somebody beats you four times, they are the better team.”
Now 29-4, the second-seeded Bulldogs defeated the fourth-seeded Eagles by a total of 18 points in their four games: at Salem, at Bethalto, at Highland – and finally, at Rich Herrin Gym in Benton. Their fourth victory over the Eagles ended CM's five-game winning streak.
“It’s great to see how excited the girls are and it means a lot to win it,” said Highland coach Mike Arbuthnot, also the Roxana High softball coach. “We’ve had a heck of a year.”
With 12 consecutive wins and 26 victories in their last 27 games, the Bulldogs are rolling. CM, the Salem Regional champ, closed at 22-11.
“I tip my cap to Highland and hope they keep going,” Denney said of the Eagles’ Mississippi Valley Conference rival. “I will be rooting for the Valley.”
Amanda Ponce, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, spurred the Bulldogs, who earned their first sectional championship since 2008 and third in school history. She scored a team-best 21 points, thanks to 8-for-13 shooting, including a pair of treys. Ponce scored 6 of Highland’s 10 fourth-quarter points when the Bulldogs extended their lead.
“I think the difference in tonight’s game was that their guard play was better than our guard play,” Denney said.
The ’Dogs led 39-35 after three quarters after trailing 27-25 at half. CM was tied with Highland at 39-39 with 6 minutes remaining in the game, but then went more with 5 minutes without a basket.
“We struggled a little bit after the game was tied and Highland dug in and made some plays when the game was on the line,” Denney said. “We looked a little timid.”
Junior All-Stater Allie Troeckler kept the Eagles within striking distance. She tallied 21 points, matching’s Ponce’s scoring. The 5-10 Troeckler made 10 of 12 shots and snagged 6 rebounds.
Her scoring accounted for half of CM’s points. Katelyn Turbyfill netted six points and Journey Coffman had five points for the Eagles. CM 19 of 37 from the field and connected on 2 of 3 free throws.
Cailtin Lammers, a 5-9 senior, pitched in 12 points for Highland to complement Ponce’s big night. The Bulldogs made 19 of 41 shots and all 9 of their free throws.
“I love my guards and they came through for us,” Arbuthnot said. “CM is a good club and we knew it would be another tough game against them. Allie Troeckler is such a good player and she can take over a game. When she got her third foul in the second quarter, we decided to take it at her in the second half.”
CM owned a 21-13 lead midway through the second quarter before Highland went on a 9-0 spree. The Bulldogs also enjoyed an 8-0 run in the third quarter to forge in front 37-29. The Eagles then produced a 10-2 binge to tie things at 39-39, but an 8-1 Highland spurt made it 47-40 with just over a minute remaining.
“Ponce made some big shots and she was a difference-maker,” Denney said. “We also had some turnovers at the wrong time.”
Coffman, Turbyfill and 6-3 senior Kalyn Troxell (four points) played their final game for the Eagles. Nevertheless, Denney has top gun Troeckler back to set the stage for more success next season.
CM has posted a 103-29 record the past four seasons, captured four regional championships and one sectional title.
Arbuthnot has guided Highland to the Elite Eight in 3A. If the Bulldogs can beat Lincoln on Monday, they’ll secure a berth in the state semifinals at Illinois State University in Normal.
“It took us a little while to get going this season, but I think we’re starting to relax a little bit and play our best basketball,” he said.
CLASS 3A BENTON SECTIONAL
HIGHLAND 49, CM 42
CM 13 14 8 7 — 42
Highland 11 14 14 10 — 49
CM (22-11) — Allie Troeckler 21, Journey Coffman 5, Katelyn Turbyfill 6, Kaylee Eaton 3, Kalyn Troxell 4, Izzy Buckley 3. 2FG-17 3FG-2 FT-2 PF-16
Highland (29-4) — Alex LaPorta 8, Madison Wellen 6, Amanda Ponce 21, Caitlin Lammers 12, Rece Portell 2. 2FG-17 3FG-2 FT-9 PF-10