OAKLAND — Girls basketball players who play for the Tri-County Lady Titans know that they have a tradition of success to uphold.
The Lady Titan winning culture has been formed over the course of three schools, several decades and numerous small towns. Between 1987 and 2014, Kansas, Oakland and Shiloh High School girls basketball teams combined for 14 regional titles, six sectional crowns and five — all won by Shiloh — state trophies.
The decision to co-op each of the schools for all sports in 2014 brought the trio of small town teams together. Five years later, the Lady Titans are looking to bring state silverware back to East Central Illinois once again.
Tri-County’s team record tands 14-3 as of Friday, having won their first 14 games before suffering three straight defeats at the Charleston Holiday Tournament. Those losses were all to teams either ranked or receiving votes in the Associated Press poll in either Class 2A or 3A.
The Titans are ranked fifth in Class 1A — all while playing a regular-season schedule that features opponents of all four class sizes.
Knowing all of this, how does Coach Joe Morrisey think his team is playing at the moment?
“Well, I guess we’re playing pretty well,” he said.
Indeed, they are.
The Titans are currently averaging an incredible 60.4 points per game, currently one of the highest marks in the state of Illinois regardless of class according to MaxPreps. TCT is allowing an average of only 36.1 points due to a zone-heavy defensive style.
Tri-County hasn’t scored less than 53 points in any game this season, spurred on by three players — sophomore Tayler Berry and seniors Harley Berry and Kiersten Price-Wilson — all averaging double figured in points per game.
But it is their defense, Morrisey argues, that has been the most valuable part of their team. The Titans run a 1-3-1 press that cycles into a 2-3 zone, which thus far has led to an average of 19.6 steals per game.
“Most teams can’t handle our 1-3-1 press, so that’s something we really hang our hat on,” Morrisey said. “We mostly take care what we need to take care of. We generally do very well at pressuring ballhandlers and getting steals.”
Part of the reason why Tri-County is able to play such aggressive defense is the team is deep, with Morrisey noting he has “10 or 11 girls” the trusts substituting in if needed. But bench depth did not save the Titans from the three consecutive losses at Charleston, in which Morrisey said was mainly due to weak finishes to games.
“We didn’t really close out games (at Charleston),” Morrisey said. “Against strong teams...I tell the girls that they can’t take a possession off. I tell the girls to value everything...every play matters if you want to win a lot of games.”
With roughly a month remaining in the regular season before postseason play — Tri-County has 10 games left on their schedule as of Friday — Morrisey believes there are still plenty of things his team can improve.
Several tough opponents await in January, including Champaign Centennial and former Shiloh head coach Dave Tingley-led Paris. But in what could be a state finals preview, the Titans travel to Danville Schlarman Thursday, Jan. 10, to clash with the No. 1 Hilltoppers and Notre Dame University commit Anaya Peoples.
“If we take care of what we can take care of, we can go as far as we want to go (in the postseason),” Morrisey said. “I tell our seniors that their high school careers, they’ll never get back, so I’m telling them to leave it all out on the line.”