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West holds off Central in huge girls basketball game

On Tuesday night, before a capacity crowd at Joliet West High School and a WJOL1340-AM listening audience, the girls of Joliet West and Joliet Central put on a show on Joliet's West side. With the huge crowd and the two powerhouse Joliet hoops squads, the game had the feel of an IHSA Class 4A sectional championship game.

Winning their 22nd consecutive game, West (27-3,15-1) held off the Steelwomen (26-5, 13-3) 44-41 to take home the 2019-20 Southwest Prairie Conference Eastern Division championship.

The Tigers and Steelwomen rumbled for 36 minutes to a virtual standoff.

With 3:47 left, Central's Jalysa Stokes (10 points) launched a three-point bomb that clanged off the front rim, soared two feet in the air and then tickled thorough the net for a 41-40 Steelwomen lead.

With 3:23 remaining, West's 5-foot-10 freshman Akiesha Watson's put-back bucket put the Tigers back on top 42-41. Thirty seconds later, the Tigers super freshman Lisa Thompson scored the final points of the game, extending the Tigers lead to 44-41 with 2:53 left.

Watson scored eight points on the night and hauled down five rebounds, three on the offensive glass and with the exception of a first-quarter bucket, all in the second half.

"It's a dream come true for me to be SPC East champs," Watson said. "All our hard work through middle school and now with the conference championship is amazing," I was fortunate to hit my shots tonight and clean the glass."

Thompson scored 13 points, three points below her 16.1 points-per-game average, grabbed three rebounds and added three steals

With 49.5 seconds left, the Steelewomen missed a pair of free-throws. With 15.3 seconds left, Thompson was fouled and went to the line for a 1-and-1. Thompson, misfired but followed the miss and stole the ball from the Central defender.

"After missing the front end of that 1-and-1, I had to do make up for that mistake," Thompson said. "It feels great to be conference champions. I want to thank my parents, my coaches and my teammates for making this possible. I'm a gym rat. I always am working very hard to improve everyday. My dad and I are always working together on my game,"

Thompson scored six first-quarter points, giving the Tigers a 14-10 lead after one quarter. Central's Allasha Alexander (14 points, seven rebounds), scored seven second-quarter points and along with six points from Stokes, the Steelwomen took a 28-27 lead into their halftime locker room.

Alexander led the Steelwomen with 12 points at the break and senior Jazz Evans had 12 to lead the Tigers

at halftime.

West clung to a 36-35 lead after three quarters.

Evans, took home game scoring-honors with her 17 points to lead the Tigers. Before the game, Evans and classmate senior Symone Riley were honored for senior night.

Evans will be playing her college basketball at Quincy College next fall. She will be majoring in pre-chemistry, specializing in genetics. Jazz just might go to Quincy and find a cure for cancer, for all of us.

"Everything is just crazy here. To win the conference championship here at home with this great crowd is amazing," Evans said. "I gave it everything I had tonight. This was my last regular season game here in my four years here at West. I am so proud of my teammates and myself.

"We have won 22 games in a row and we want to keep the streak going all the way down to Redbird Arena next month."

Central senior Ni'Azia Sims-Wright may stand below five-foot, but she played like a seven-footer tonight.

Battling among the bigs all night, the diminutive Sims-Wright grabbed a game-high eight rebounds, six on the offensive glass.

"[It was a] great game. Both teams played so hard," Joliet Central coach Laura Brumfiel said. "This was a great game for the entire city of Joliet."

"What a season for both of our Joliet teams," West coach John Placher said. "All Central did was win and we had to win to just to keep up with them. What a tremendous girls high school basketball game. Both teams played so hard and so well and what about this crowd? You don't see this many people at a women's college game, let alone a girls high school basketball game. I am so proud of our girls and am happy that they were able to experience, an environment like this.

"Joliet Central really got in our face on defense. This really helps us for the tournament because we haven't seen great defense like they play, all season.

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m., the Tigers will play the winner of the Bradley-Bourbonnais and Minooka play-in game

Following the Tigers' game, the Steelwomen will take on Moiline (19-10) at 7:30.

If the Tigers and Steelwomen are victorious that night, on Thursday, Feb. 20, for the IHSA Class 4A Joliet West Regional Championship and the right to advance to the Pekin Sectional, the Tigers and the Steelwomen will meet for the third time this season.


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