SALEM — "Final Four, Final Four," chanted the Tri-County faithful after their girls' basketball team, a sports co-op of Shiloh, Oakland and Kansas, put on a dominating defense display in a 55-28 Illinois High School Association Class 1A Supersectional win over Marissa/Coulterville Monday at B.E. Gum Gym.
Tri-County forced the Lady Meteors into 39 turnovers and held them to 22 percent shooting from the field.
"We hang our hat on the 1-3-1 zone, and diamond press," said Tri-County coach Joe Morrisey. "We have been working on it (defense) for four years, and we have four seniors and an awesome sophomore in Tayler Barry. We have been trying to get to this plateau and have been knocking on the door and we finally got it."
Tri-County had reached the sectional championship three years in a row and had not won until this year. This was their 12th win in a row.
It is the first time a Tri-County team has made it to the final four in girls basketball and the first time for an Oakland or Oakland-Kansas team. Shiloh made it to state five times with the last time being a fourth-place finish in 2010-11 in Class 1A.
"Going into the game we felt confident," said Tri-County's Harley Barry. "We knew we could do it. We just had to push through. We couldn't overlook them. We had to work really hard and we got it done."
The Lady Titans scored the first 18 points of the game in the opening 9:32 with a swarming defense that caused the Lady Meteors, who finished 26-6, to turn the ball over 16 times in the opening quarter and 28 at the half.
"It feels surreal," said Morrisey of the win. "We work on defense 45 minutes a night and run, run and run. I run the dog at them, they tell me."
As for the run to start the game, Harley Barry said, "I wasn't really concentrating on that, but it was exciting when I realized that."
Maiya Eskew, a senior for the Lady Titans, said, "The run was unreal. Defense is my favorite. It is fun to play." (Eskew plays up top.)
Kiersten Price-Wilson started the scoring with the first 4 points of the game, including two free throws and a basket off an assist by Harley Barry. Harley Barry scored 2 points before her sister Tayler Barry drilled two 3-pointers for a 12-0 lead. She scored again off an assist by Price-Wilson, and freshman Bella Dudley closed out the scoring in the opening period with a bucket on an assist from Harley Barry.
"The coach from Goreville told me that they were a very physical team and really pound the boards," said Morrisey of Marissa. "Their coach told me he would have played man on them instead of zone looking back, but we didn't want to do do that as our zone is pretty good. We did play some man-to-man late."
Marissa/Coulterville ended its 0-for-12 shooting with a basket by Bree Protz, a freshman, who led the team in scoring in the sectional semifinals and championship, including 22 points in the 43-34 sectional championship win over Goreville. The Lady Meteors were 1-of-14 (.071) from the field in the first half.
The Lady Titans led 29-6 at the half finishing the period on a 9-1 run in the final 2:15, including 5 points by Harley Barry.
Tri-County entered the game averaging to get 20 turnovers a game on steals and had held its opponents to just 34.4 points per game.
In the second half, Tri-County went up 39-11 after a 3-pointer by Tayler Barry and a steal and layup by Harley Barry. Lillie Cox got into the fun also with a basket at the buzzer for a 43-14 lead heading into the final quarter.
Tri-County, 29-4, is to play in the Illinois High School Association Class 1A state semifinals Friday at 11:15 a.m. at Illinois State's Redbird Arena vs. Lanark Eastland, a 74-45 winner over Chicago Richards in the Belvidere Supersectional.
Neither Morrisey or Maiya Eskew expected a 27-point win in the supersectional.
The 28 points Marissa scored was its second-fewest in what was their first trip to the Elite Eight.
"This has been what we have been working on all year and basically all our lives," said Maiya Eskew. "It is crazy and such a surreal feeling and I am just so excited to be going (to state)."