BELLEVILLE — Lavonte Hobbs made his shots count in a timely manner for the Alton Redbirds on Tuesday at Belleville East High School.
The senior reserve guard hit a trio of second-half treys to spur the Redbirds in their 67-58 win over Collinsville during a semifinal game of the Class 4A Pekin Boys' Basketball Sectional.
A standing room-only crowd of more than 2,200 fans watched the 27-4 Redbirds defeat the 20-13 Kahoks for the third time this season and match a school record for victories. Alton also won 27 games in 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07.
“He was the hero for us tonight,” AHS coach Eric Smith said of the 5-foot-11 Hobbs, who made 3 of 4 shots and scored nine points. “We have kids who can do a lot of different things in different ways—like Lavonte did.
“To me, that’s the most satisfying thing.”
Darrius Edwards (16 points), Carlos Anderson (14 points) and Bryan Hudson (14 points) also boosted the Birds, who connected on nine 3-pointers. Edwards sank four of them, including three in the first quarter, against Collinsville's zone defense.
Alton plays 30-1 Normal Community at 7 p.m. Friday in Pekin for the sectional championship. Normal ousted Rock Island, 58-51, on Tuesday in the other sectional semifinal. The Redbirds are eyeing their first sectional title since 2005.
“They are hard to cover,” Kahoks’ coach Darin Lee said of the Redbirds. “I think we handled their pressure, but tonight they made shots. They made their 3-pointers and their shooting was the difference in the game.
“No question, that’s the best they have shot against us this season. Hats off to them.”
Hobbs made two of his shots in a pivotal spot. The Kahoks, down by seven points in the first half, got to within 35-33 late in the third quarter. Then Hobbs punched in a pair of 3-pointers and the Redbirds extended their lead to eight points.
Collinsville got no closer than six points the rest of the way and Alton sported a 58-42 advantage with three minutes to go.
“It’s one of the best games I’ve played,” said Hobbs, the quarterback on the Redbirds’ 5-4 football team. “Tonight was my night and I felt good shooting in the (pre-game) warm-ups. That loosened me up and the team told me to shoot.”
He added, “It felt good to do that and have a big game on a big stage.”
Smith said, “Lavonte has had games when he has done that. He’s a confident shooter and he did his job. Overall, we shot it well tonight.”
The Birds made 24 of 53 shots, but it was their 3-pointers that shook the Kahoks. Emondre Rickman, a 6-8 senior center, finished his prep career with a flourish. He scored a season-best 25 points, thanks to 11-for-15 shooting. Teammate Anfirnee Wilkinson pitched in 18 points. Collinsville made 23 of 47 shots, including six treys.
“He (Rickman) did a nice job and had a big game,” Lee said.
Smith said of Rickman, “There’s a reason he’s going to Indiana State. He did some nice things.”
So did the Redbirds’ Darrius Edwards. He pointed them in the right direction with his nine-point opening quarter.
"In retrospect, we probably should have guarded Edwards better early in the game," Lee said. "We wanted to see if they could make their 3-pointers and they did that. When you play a team that talented, you have to pick your spots or pick your poison."
Edwards said, "We came out ready to play. We had a lot of fun talking in the locker room before the game and I think that relaxed us. We treated it like any other game.”
Yet in one sense, it wasn’t just another game. The Redbirds have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of 4A postseason play and are driving to go deeper. A win Friday will propel them into next Tuesday’s super-sectional at Illinois State University in Normal.
“Tonight’s game was the best of the three we have played against them,” Edwards said of the Kahoks. “We were knocking down our 3-pointers.”
Smith said, “We expected it to be a tough game, but we shot the ball well and we showed some patience.”
He knows the Redbirds will have to be at their best in their quest for a sectional championship. Normal awaits them at Dawdy Hawkins Gymnasium in Pekin.
“Their two big players are extremely talented and they are a good team,” he said of the Ironmen.
(Semifinal at Belleville East)
ALTON 67, COLLINSVILLE 58
Collinsville 11 11 13 23 – 58
Alton 16 11 14 26 – 67
Collinsville (20-13) – Emondre Rickman 25, Anfirnee Wilkinson 18, Ronnie Midgett 6, Brett Langley 6, Harrison Wethers 3. 2FG-17 3FG-6 FT-6 PF-16
Alton (27-4) – Darrius Edwards 16, Carlos Anderson 14, Bryan Hudson 14, Maurice Edwards 8, Isaiah Thurmond 6, Lavonte Hobbs 9. 2FG-15 3FG-9 FT-10 PF-15