GOREVILLE — Sesser-Valier-Waltonville girls basketball coach Rick Metcalf bagged his 600th career win Monday night.
No. 601 might ultimately be the one which shapes a three-way race in the Black Diamond Conference West.
Getting key contributions from point guard Sami McCowen, forward Ella Zahm and freshman sharpshooter Micah Reynolds, the Red Devils notched their second big conference road win in a week with a 64-57 decision over Goreville.
“We had a lot of little contributions from everyone that ultimately led to a big win,” Metcalf said.
All eight players who played for S-V-W (15-3, 6-1) scored, led by McCowen’s 16 points. As impressive as the production was McCowen’s savvy. The three-year starter, who is heading for Rend Lake College, played the final 5:58 with four fouls.
Metcalf might have lifted a lot of players with that much time remaining, but never gave a thought to pulling McCowen.
“She’s not doing us any good sitting on the bench,” he said. “She knows how to play with four fouls.”
McCowen validated her coach’s judgment by setting up Rylee Breeze and Zahm for layups that gave the Red Devils a 52-44 advantage with 5:02 left. She added a 3-ball from the left wing that made it 55-47 with less than four minutes remaining.
From there, S-V-W played clockball, hitting 7-of-9 free throws in the final 2:36 to keep the state’s third-ranked Class 1A team at bay.
Zahm was all over the floor, chipping in 14 points and eight rebounds while also making three steals. Zahm canned 8-of-11 at the foul line and produced five points off four offensive rebounds.
Reynolds, who earlier in the night poured in 29 points during the JV joust, came off the bench in the second quarter and helped the Red Devils wipe out a five-point deficit with 10 points. She delivered a glimpse of what could make her a standout the next three seasons, displaying 3-point range and the ability to score off the dribble.
The key to a 19-9 second quarter burst, though, was S-V-W’s pressure defense that made the Blackcats (15-2, 5-1) play a step faster than they wanted. Goreville committed eight of its 15 turnovers in the period and occasionally crossed the line from fast to frantic.
“That has been our biggest problem – that we go through stretches where we try to play too fast,” Blackcats coach Mike Helton said. “We either took shots that weren’t very good or we turned the ball over. We got speeded up, we got a couple of easy buckets and then we try to play too fast.”
Goreville got a game-high 17 points from Payton Sopczak and 11 from senior Lexi King, but Metcalf was pleased with the defense on King. After scoring seven first quarter points and taking six free throws, King was held to four points and no foul shots for the game’s remainder.
The Blackcats could have drawn within 59-57 in the final minute, but Breanna Stout’s wide-open 3-pointer from the left wing went halfway down and came out. McCowen got a breakaway layup on the other end to help put it away.
Goreville played without junior forward Hallie Martin (knee), who Helton hopes will be back for its game with Benton on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. in Eldorado’s mid-winter tournament. That will be a fascinating contrast in styles between the fast-paced Blackcats and the patient Rangerettes.
“We want to give ourselves a chance to win the tournament,” Helton said, “but it’s going to come down to being able to make adjustments in games. That’s where we struggled tonight.”
As for the Red Devils, they took a half-game lead in the division with road wins over both contenders – they won at Vienna on Thursday night – in their pocket. Two of their three losses are to SIRR Mississippi co-leaders Carterville and Nashville.
“That’s why we play games like that, to help us get ready for games like this,” Metcalf said.