INA, Ill. – If Belleville West Junior High School does go on to win the state junior high school boys basketball title, the Westerners will long remember their quarterfinal game on Saturday against Mount Carmel – a game that tested them as perhaps they had not yet been in an undefeated season.
Mount Carmel held an improbable 26-17 lead at halftime. However, things changed in the second half as West began to play more like a 24-0 record would indicate. They overwhelmed the Junior Aces 38-13 in the second half to advance on with a 55-39 victory in the SIJHSAA Class L state tournament at Rend Lake College.
“Everybody figured we would back off because they are such a quality team. But our boys came right out and hit them in the nose. I felt really good about the first half,” said Mount Carmel coach Ron Patton. “I am proud of our guys on the big floor. Everybody stepped up.”
Belleville West outscored Mount Carmel 18-7 in the third quarter to take a 35-33 lead into the final seven-minute quarter. The Westerners added to it with a decisive 20-6 edge in the fourth quarter.
For everyone who thought going in that the Westerners leader Tommie Williams would be too much to handle, it turned out to be guard Javieon Wallace. With Williams in foul trouble, Williams scored 14 of his game-high 27 points -- including five-of-seven at the foul lined -- in the final period. Williams finished with 18 points.
“There’s a lot of really good talent there,” Patton said.
Mount Carmel (16-7), the 2015 champions making their fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament began to find the range late in the first period, which they led 11-4. West got untracked early in the second quarter, and cut the deficit to one before Mount Carmel caught fire late to rebuild a nine-point lead by halftime. Noah Martin, one of three seventh-graders on the team, scored all 12 of his team-high points in the opening half.
Following Martin in the scoring column for the Junior Aces was Beau Stipp with 11 points, Kaleb Applebey with seven, Ethan Belt with five and Rayce Loudermilk with four points.
West will face Centralia in the second semifinal on Tuesday, preceded by a game between two O’Fallon entries who both made it, Fulton and Carriel. All four of those teams will return on Saturday for championship or third-place games.
JUNIIOR ACES ASIDES… Ron Patton has brought his Junior Aces to the state tournament in both years as a head coach, having replaced Matt Lies after the title season… Fairfield’s junior high team, the Colts, won the Class M crown on Friday, finishing with a perfect record. Mount Carmel had the Colts down by six points in the third quarter of their regular-season game.