GODFREY — Jersey prevailed in a basketball war of nerves with Alton on Saturday in the Redbirds Tip-Off Girls' Classic.
The Panthers shaded the host Redbirds, 44-42 for third place and improved to 2-1. Alton dropped to 1-2 and finished fourth in the six-team tournament.
“You couldn’t get a much closer game,” Panthers’ coach Kevin Strebel said. “It was tied at halftime (18-18) and after the third quarter (28-28). I hope this win will be a springboard for us. We were 0-3 here last year.”
Alton coach Bob Rickman bemoaned the Redbirds’ inability to play timely defense and hit clutch shots.
“I told the girls that a big difference is that we left (Bethany) Muenstermann open too much of the time,” he said. “We let her get four 3-pointers in the first half.
He added, “Our main focus on defense was supposed to be on her, but we let her get some wide open looks. I don’t know how can you do that and expect to win.”
Defending tournament champion Calhoun repeated its success by blasting Mater Dei, 51-32, in the title game. The Warriors shot to 3-0 and the Knights fell to 2-1. Springfield Lanphier topped Cahokia, 53-31, for fifth place. The Lions raised their record to 1-2. The Comanches sank to 0-3.
Grace Baalman, a 6-foot-2 junior center from Calhoun, was selected the tourney’s MVP. Baalman, a talented three-sport athlete, is headed to Kentucky on a softball scholarship. She scored a tournament-best 29 points Friday in the Warriors’ 71-26 win over Cahokia. Baalman hit for 18 points in the championship game.
Her older sister, Emma, a 6-1 senior, earned tourney MVP honors last year.
LaJarvia Brown, a 5-3 senior guard from Alton, joined Grace Baalman on the all-tourney first team. Kassidy Klocke and Emma Baalman of Calhoun, Kelsie Gerdes of Mater Dei and Jeniya Griffin of Springfield Lanphier also were named to that squad.
The all-tourney second team included Jersey’s Muenstermann, Ayonna Clanton of Alton, Logan Braundmeier of Mater Dei, Raynesha Lewis of Cahokia and Maria Cline of Springfield Lamphier.
Brown scored a season-best 26 points and 5-10 senior Jewel Wagner pitched in 12 more against Jersey. However, the Panthers countered their scoring by benefiting from the point work of Munestermann and Mackenzie Thurston.
Muenstermann, a 5-7 junior, scored 17 points, thanks mainly to five 3-pointers. Thurston, a 5-8 junior, logged 15 points, 13 in the second half. She tallied nine of them in the fourth quarter when Jersey made its stretch run.
“Mackenzie has that kind of ability to make plays when there seems to be nothing going on,” Strebel said. “She can make a difference in a game.”
The Redbirds forged in front 30-28 at the start of the fourth quarter, then Thurston took over. She scored seven consecutive points and the Redbirds never regained the advantage. They closed to within 40-39 on Brown’s 3-point play with 1:17 remaining, but Jersey refused to relinquish the lead.
Kiara Chapman of Jersey put the finishing touches on the win by sinking two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining to make it 44-39. The Panthers were 11 of 13 from the foul line, while the Redbirds were 5 of 9. Alton made 18 of 48 field-goal attempts. Jersey was 13 of 36 from the field.
“We forced a lot of things, rushed some shots late in the game and had opportunities that slipped away,” Rickman said. “We also need to play better defense. We can’t be successful until we do that.”
On offense, Brown and Wagner combined for 38 of Alton’s 42 points. Brown made 11 of 18 shots and Wagner hit on 5 of 11 tries. The remainder of the Redbirds were a composite 2-for-19 with their field-goal attempts for only four points.
“LaJarvia was hurting (sore left knee) in the second half because she had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility,” Rickman said. Nevertheless, Brown managed to score nine points in the see-saw fourth quarter.
“She’s so quick and really a difference-maker,” Strebel said of Brown. "We were trying to not let her touch the basketball late in the game."
He said the Panthers needed the third-place finish in a big way.
“We lost a lot of close games last year, so it’s nice to win this game and great to see the smiles from the girls,” he said. "They were thrilled about it."
ALTON TIP-OFF CLASSIC
JERSEY 44, ALTON 42
Jersey 8 10 10 16 – 44
Alton 3 15 10 14 – 42
Jersey (2-1) – Lauren Davis 4, Bethany Muenstermann 17, Ally Schroeder 3, Kiara Chapman 5, Mackenzie Thurston 15. 2FG-6 3FG-7 FT-11 PF-8.
Alton (1-2) – LaJarvia Brown 26, Jewel Wagner 12, Ayonna Clanton 2, Cri’Shonna Hickman 2. 2FG-17 3FG-1 FT-5 PF-12.