By Mike Monahan

CENTRALIA – For one half, the Mattoon Green Wave was right there with Highland, the No. 8 team in the St. Louis Post Dispatch small school rankings, trailing 21-14.

Highland led 25-16 after a basket by Mattoon’s Teygen Sewell in the Class 3A Sectional Semifinals at Trout Gym. The Bulldogs went on a blistering 23-5 run over the next 10:41 to win, 52-28.

Highland (25-7) advances to the sectional championship where it will play Mt. Vernon (28-6), an 85-81 winner over East St. Louis in the second semifinal.

“We have had runs also, and I thought we would,” said Mattoon first year coach Troy Haacke. “I thought we might come out in that third quarter and knock down a few 3s and get hot and get out in transition like we have done all year. It just didn’t happen tonight.”

Highland’s run starting with a basket by Abby Schultz and the Bulldogs made 5-of-6 field goals including that one. Larissa Taylor, a 6-1 junior, scored six points during the run after scoring six the entire first half. Grace Wilke sank a three-pointer for a 34-16 lead. Ella Conyers answered right back with a 3-pointer of her own, but it would be the last basket for the Green Wave in 8:23. A free throw by Piper Sanders made it 34-20 before Highland reeled off 14 of the next 15 points to break the game open even further. 

“We did a nice job of rebounding and we finally made some layups in the second half,” said Highland coach Clint Hamilton. “Credit Mattoon. They did a nice job of collapsing on our big girls and that made it hard on us. I wish we would have finished a little better in the first half, but we got going a little bit in the second half for sure.”

Five different players combined to score the 14 points for Highland, who won the Mississippi Valley Conference. 

Haacke was happy with the defense in the second quarter. 

“In the second quarter, we went to a 2-3 zone and they had some trouble with us,” said Haacke. “They got in a little bit of foul trouble. In the second half we kind of lost it a little bit.”

Highland went without a field goal, missing 10 straight in a span of 6:58. However, they were 4-of-4 from the free throw line during that time as they actually went from up 12-9 to leading 16-11.

“In the first half we missed a bunch of bunnies,” said Hamltion. “We got out in transition and got some easy ones in the second half. We got the lid off the basket per se and the girls had more confidence on the offensive side of the ball.”

Mattoon was held to just 23 percent from the field, making 10-of-44, including 2-for-14 from beyond the 3-point line. 

“We did a nice job defensively the whole game,” said Hamilton. “We saw them on film and they shoot a lot of 3-pointers and they are pretty good shooters. So, our game plan was to get out there and make them put the ball on the floor and I thought we did  a nice job of that.”

Taylor had a team-high 15, while Wilke was right behind with 12. 

“They used both girls effectively,” said Haacke. “I thought they would probably go to Taylor because of her size and they know we are not blessed with a lot of height. We knew Wilke was their best scorer from the perimeter. We did a really good job on her early and didn’t lose her. We did  lose her a little bit late. She knocked down two and was shooting 40 percent from the three-point line. 

Emily Maple led MHS with eight points. 

“I felt with as tough as our conference (Apollo) is with Taylorville, Mahomet-Seymour and Lincoln and of course Mt. Zion, with the size they bring. Lincoln is a little different because of the defensive scheme that they play. The other teams played zone against us. So, I thought we were battle tested for this. 

Highland is very very good. They have a lot of weapons. They have good shooters and they have bigs. They have got quick guards that can get to the rim. So, they are a very balanced team and it is hard to guard them all. Taylor is good and I think she is bigger in person than she is on film.”

Mattoon finished 16-17, but the school’s 26th regional title since the 1976-77 season. 

Matton won its second straight regional title last Friday, which was the first time since the 2000-2001 and 2001-02 seasons won back-to-back regional titles (it was in the two class system).  All of this after losing the all-time scorer in Mallory Ramage (now at Loyola of Chicago) and all-Apollo Conference players Chloe Pruitt and Faith Niebrugge. 

The Green Wave lose only one senior in Lilly Ghere, a two-year starter. 

“We have a lot of girls coming back and I feel like those girls are going to just build on that and keep growing with confidence and hopefully we will add some stuff to it and next year hopefully we will have an opportunity to come back and play in this type of game again.”

Highland will be shooting for its first sectional title since 2019-2020.  

For Mattoon it is the first time they have won a regional with a 16-16 record. The 1996-97 team went 18-11 and won a regional. 

“I told the girls I wanted to keep improving throughout the year,” said Haacke. “I wanted to be better at the Mattoon HolidayTournament then we were at the Pana Thanksgiving Tournament and I wanted to be even better in the postseason than the Mattoon Holiday Tournament. With our conference there are so many times we could have wilted (1-10 in the Apollo), but we never did. The girls came ready to go everyday in practice and I felt like we continued to get better throughout the year and that is all you can ask for.”

Mattoon 9 5 6 8–28

Highland 12 9 18 13–52

MATTOON: Ghere 2 1-2 6, Maple 2 4-4 8, Sanders 2 1-2 5, Conyers 1 0-0 3, Sewell 2 0-0 4, Lathrop 0 0-0 0, Masse 0 0-0 0, Larson 0 0-1 0, Otto 0 0 0, Duncan 0 0-0 0, Totals 10 6-9 28

3-point goals: 2-14 .143 (Ghere 1-2, Conyers 1-6, Maple 0-5, Masse 0-1). Rebounds 28 (Sewell 4). Turnovers 16. Free throw percentage .667. Field goals 10-44 .227

HIGHLAND: Maas 1 1-2 3, Schultz 3 0-1 7, Crask 1 2-2 5, Wilke 5 0-0 12, Taylor 6 3-5 15, Frey 1 0-0 2, Bricher 1 1-2 3, Coziar 0 0-0 0, Schroder 1 3-5 5, Fleming 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 8-10 52

3-point goals: 4-14 .286 (Wilke 2-6, Crask 1-3, Cozier 1-1, Bircher 0-1, Schultz 0-2, Taylor 0-1). Rebounds 42 (Taylor 8). Turnovers 18, Freer throw percentage .800. Field goals 19-48 .396.