By Mike Monahan
BETHALTO – For the third time this postseason, the Mattoon girls basketball team had to make a two-hour drive to play.
The trips, though, have not impacted the Green Wave’s performances.
Mattoon, which arrived an hour before the 6 p.m. tipoff, held Troy Trad (21-10) to its third-lowest point total this season in a 53-29 triumph in a IHSA Class 3A Sectional semifinal at Bethalto Civic Memorial.
The Green Wave, winners of 10 straight, now take on host Civic Memorial, 57-45 winners over Mt. Vernon in the other semifinal Thursday night. Mt. Vernon rallied from a 22-point deficit to close within four points with three minutes left before getting outscored 9-1.
Civic Memorial (30-4), ranked No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 3 by MaxPreps, had beaten Triad twice this season by 56-47 and 46-40 scores.
Mattoon (28-2), ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll and No. 4 by MaxPreps, lost to Civic Memorial 57-37 in a sectional semifinal two seasons ago.
“I am so excited,” said Mattoon guard Lily Ghere. ”I have never been in a sport where I got to do this (reach Sweet 16). I love my teammates. We have so much fun together. I think that is why we do so well because we get along with each other and we have so much fun together.”
“Reaching the Sweet 16 is amazing,” said Mattoon coach Amanda Aydt. “These girls have worked so hard and they deserve it so much. They have put all of the hard work in, and it is paying off. It is an amazing team and a great and amazing group of girls to work with.”
Mattoon started slowly, leading just 4-2 more than five minutes into the game and 15-11 early in the second quarter. Ahead 20-14, the Green Wave began to pull away with a 12-1 run. Ghere hit one of her four 3-pointers against Triad’s 1-2-2 press to start the run and another that made it 32-15 to end the quarter.
“I thought we did an excellent job on defense of trapping and anticipating the steals and getting loose basketballs,” said Aydt. “Diving on the floor and getting loose balls and that led to transition baskets.”
Mattoon led 41-22 in the third quarter before going on another 12-1 run sparked by five consecutive points by Ghere that made it 53-23 early in the fourth quarter and gave Mattoon a 30-point lead, which required a nonstop clock the remainder of the game.
“We knew we would have to keep working because the last time this team (Triad) played they came back,” said Ghere. “So, we were like ‘we can’t let down or they would do the same thing to us.’ We didn’t let down.”
Mattoon’s defense forced 19 turnovers. The 1-2-2 zone had Ramage at the top followed by Faith Niebrugge and Ghere with Paige Farmer and Chloe Pruitt deep on the press.
“It was really big,” said Ramage of the turnovers and the defense that held Triad to just 10 field goals on 33 attempts. “We talk a lot on defense. We work on defense a lot of the time in practice; talking and knowing where the open person is and rotating over a lot. That is what really helped us. We talk and work together as a team.”
Ramage, who had 21 points at halftime, finished with 31 points on 12-of-18 field-goal attempts.
“I was feeling it,” said Ramage. “I was really excited when everyone on our team started hitting our shots and we knew we were on. So that is what we were going to do; hit our shots and play as a team together and look for the open passes and hit our shots.”
Ghere, who scored 14, could also tell she was ready during warm-ups.
“I have been practicing really hard just because I know this is an important part of the year,” said Ghere. “Chloe Pruitt had some great in and outs, which caused me to be open. The team cheered me on, which gave me a lot of confidence, and I just kept shooting it.”
Ramage enjoyed Ghere’s performance.
“Lily did really great,” said Ramage. “I love Lily. She hits shots when she needs to and she is a really great player, and I love playing with her.”
Ramage led the team in rebounds with eight, while Niebrugge snagged four of Mattoon’s eight steals.
“We knew what they ran and so we worked on it in practice,” Aydt said. “The girls did an outstanding job of executing the game plan on both ends of the floor. Offensively, we attacked the basket early and got them in foul trouble. We also attacked the basket and kicked it out for those that were open outside. Defensively, I thought we did an excellent job. Everyone was in the right spots. Everyone was hustling and helping each other out on defense. I can’t say enough about this team. They are coachable and have great attitudes. I can’t be more proud of this team. They are always positive and always have a smile on their face and work really hard.”
Civic Memorial, which has won seven in a row, averages 54 points per game while allowing 40.6. Their only losses were to Edwardsville, Breese Central, Whitfield, Mo., and Quincy Notre Dame.
Mattoon has lost twice to Lincoln, splitting their four games this season. The Green Wave average 62 points per game, while allowing 35.6.
“We are really looking forward to it (Thursday’s game) as we are playing great together as a team,” said Ramage. “We are just really happy to be here as a team and grateful to be playing. We just want to keep winning and so that is what we are going to do: go out and give it our all in every game.”
The Green Wave were last in the Sweet 16 during the 2016-17 season when they lost to Rochester 69-39 in the sectional championship at Decatur MacArthur.
The Green Wave are seeking their first Elite Eight berth since the 1990-91 season, one of five sectional titles the program has won.
MATTOON: Ghere 5 0-0 14, Pruitt 1 0-0 2, Farmer 2 0-1 4, Niebrugge 0 2-3 2, Ramage 12 5-7 31, Maple 0 0-0 0, Sanders 0 0-0 0, Jurka 0 0-0 0, Conyers 0 0-0 0, Sewell 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 7-11 53.
3-point goals: Mattoon 6-8 (.750) (Ghere 4, Ramage 2), Troy Triad 5-13 (.385)(Bohnenstiehl 3, Hartoin 2). Free throws: Mattoon 7-11 (.636), Triad 4-7 (.571). Rebounds: Mattoon 28 (Ramage 7), Triad 23 (Reagan Chigas 10). Turnovers Mattoon 13, Triad 19. Shooting percentages: Mattoon 20-45 (.444), Triad 10-33 (.303).
Photos by Chet Piotrowski