OAKLAND — In a phone interview with the Prairie Press last week, Tri-County girls basketball Coach Joe Morrisey said his team had “six or seven” players that really made his squad go.
As foul trouble hit the Titans hard against Edgar County rival Paris Monday night Jan. 7, those seven players ensured Tri-County was able to secure a big win.
Tri-County (15-3 overall) rebounded from a weak holiday tournament finish to beat the Tigers (16-6), 50-41, in a physical, fast-paced game. The Lady Titans never looked as if they were not in control.
The Barry sisters — senior Harley and sophomore Tayler — paced Tri-County with 15 and 12 points, respectively. But when they and senior center Kiersten Price-Wilson each had four fouls in the second half, freshman Bella Dudley and senior Meredith Smith each registered significant minutes off the bench to preserve their nearly wire-to-wire lead.
Playing in front of a boisterous crowd at Oakland High School, Morrisey said this was a quality win that his team needed as postseason play nears next month.
“Everybody that played did something tonight,” Morrisey said. “I think Bella and Meredith (were) awesome...everybody did a great job in front of a great crowd tonight. Paris, it’s a great rivalry, great team, and a lot of the girls play AAU ball together. Paris is a great, great team, and this is a great win.”
Both the Titans and Tigers were entering the game with different runs of form and play styles. Tri-County, who was on a three-game losing streak after winning their first 14 games, caused defensive havoc with a 1-3-1 zone press. Paris, who had won three of their last four games, stayed traditional with a man-to-man.
The Titans have averaged 19 steals per game using their pressure defense so far this year, and its effectiveness - and drawbacks - showed in the first half.
Tri-County raced to a 26-15 lead at halftime, spurred by 11 first-half points from Tayler Berry and a team total of four second-quarter three-pointers. While they created 25 turnovers, fouls started racking up for the Titans; Price-Wilson accured her fourth foul with 4:57 left in the third quarter, while the Barry sisters got each of their fourths minutes later.
Without junior guard Sarah Isaf, who sat out due to injury, Paris struggled with the increased pressure at times, but head coach Dave Tingley thought his team handled it, “as well as they could.” Junior guard Karrington Krabel led the Tigers with 13 points.
“In the game, you probably could’ve handled it better, but overall, we did everything we could,” Tingley said. “We handled their press. The press didn’t really bother us. (Tri-County) gets their hands on a lot of balls, and they tip balls a lot, and that does cause some confusion at times.”
Once Tri-County toned down their press in the second half as foul trouble became an issue, the Tigers were not able to capitalize on the Titan playmakers sitting. Paris was able to cut the Tri-County lead as low as seven in the second half, but time eventually ran out for a late comeback attempt.
Paris did, however, hold the Titans to their season-low in points; Tri-County’s average points per game entering Monday was 60.4.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do...we held them to one of their lowest-scoring point totals of the year,” Tingley said. “If it weren’t for some free throws at the end, they don’t even reach 50, and this is a team that scores a lot of points. I thought that we executed perfectly on defense.”
Paris returns home on Thursday for a non-conference tussle with former Apollo Conference foe Mattoon, but Tri-County has a game the same night that could be a preview of next month’s IHSA State Finals matchups.
The Titans travel north to play Danville Schlarman, the defending Class 1A state champions and unanimous No. 1-ranked Class 1A team in Illinois according to the Associated Press. Tri-County - no slouches either, being ranked No. 5 - will play likely the best player they’ll face all season: superstar guard Anaya Peoples, a commit of defending NCAA national champions Notre Dame.
“It’ll be a great learning experience,” Morrisey said of the upcoming matchup. “We talk about regionals, sectionals and what we wanna do this year, this is it.”