ARTHUR — An 18-0 second-half run blew open a close game and led Central A&M to a 63-39 win against Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond for the Class 1A regional title.
A&M had also beaten ALAH 53-27 on Feb. 1 — also at Arthur.
“This is the first championship we have had all year,” said Central A&M coach Tom Dooley. “It is awesome to see them step up and get this done. Right now I feel like we are playing good basketball.”
Central A&M (24-8), advanced to the Casey-Westfield Sectional, where the Raiders will play the winner of Friday’s Altamont at Efffngham St. Anthony regional championship game. The sectional semifinal game is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday.
In the first meeting, the Knights trailed 33-15 at the half and were outscored 20-3 in the third.
“We guarded the three-point line better than the first time we played them,” Arthur coach Mac Condill said. “They absolutely demolished us the first time. Like any good team you take away one thing and it opens up another. We knew they had a good post presence. They moved well without the ball and they do all of the things we preach about and that good teams do. I said rebounding was going to be the key and we didn’t rebound well. If we get a defensive rebound we get to run and we are best in that mode. We didn’t play a good enough game to do it and we still have things to work on.”
Thursday, ALAH trailed 31-19 at the half. Central A&M, the No. 14 team in the state used a 13-2 run during a span of the opening quarter to take an 18-8 lead.
The Lady Raiders led 38-21 with 4:42 left in the third quarter and it appeared they were on their way to victory. The Knights made one final run, scoring nine unanswered points starting with a three-pointer by Mallory Nichols. Charley Condill scored and Makenzie Brown had two straight put-backs, making it an eight-point game.
“We just started playing like you have to play to win a regional championship,” said Condill. “We talked about being more consistent all season and we were not that. During that time-out I said that was one run. They thought they won the regional just because we got within eight points. It is not good enough to win those type of games and that is what we are working on.”
The Knights lose five seniors, but have most players back, including many freshmen and sophomores that played extensive minutes or started.
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Central A&M held Arthur without a field goal for the next 5:58 and began their final run with a basket by 5-10 Channing Reed on a pass from Hannah Schinzler. Reed scored the last four points of the third bringing the lead back up to 15, 45-30. Mikayla Denton scored four of the next six points to start the fourth. Kailee Otto, a freshman ended the run with a three-pointer for ALAH.
“We looked like we saw the deer in the headlights,” said Dooley of the Arthur run. “We challenged them in the time-out and I thought they responded. I think the senior leadership showed.”
Nichols led the Knights with 10 points. ALAH had 21 turnovers and 14-of-42 from the field.
Central A&M, a team with six seniors, was led by Mikayla Denton with 20, while Reed had 16 and McKenna Denton with 10. The Lady Raiders were 23-of-46 from the field and 15-of-20 from the free throw line. Reed finished with seven rebounds.
“Reed, who is going to Lincoln Land, can go inside and outside,” said Dooley. “She didn’t shoot it from the outside today, but she can. They couldn’t stop her. We just didn’t’ get her the ball very much in the first half. I thought Schinzler showed some aggressiveness driving and made her free throws. We had several kids step up in the second half like Mikayla Denton.”
Arthur led three different times in the first three minutes, including 6-5 on a basket by Mallory Nichols. That is when the Raiders, who used a 1-2-2 trap and a 2-3 zone defense, started its run with a layup by Hannah Schinzler. Lanie Sims canned a three-pointer for a 10-6 advantage. After a pair of free throws by Condill, Reed scored on a pass from Julia Braundmeier and Schinzler made four straight points for a 16-8 Central A&M lead.
The Knights finished 18-13, which is its 10th consecutive season of finishing .500 or above. Arthur has reached the regional championship game in three of the last four years, including two in Class 2A where they lost to Tuscola 45-43 in 2017 and to Pana in 2018.
Advancing to the Three-Point Contest sectional finals at Casey on Feb.20 are Central A&M’s Reed and Schinzler along with ALAH’s Nichols and Arcola’s Kyla Hutton.
Contact Mike Monahan at (217)-238-6854. Follow him on Twitter: @monahanmikejgtc
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