Thursday’s Class 2A Sesser-Valier Regional final between Pinckneyville and Nashville will be the third time these two SIRR Mississippi rivals face off this season.
You could say that Nashville has the upper-hand after defeating Pinckneyville in the regional championship last year, but it’s hard to tell what Thursday’s game in Sesser will bring given the injuries both teams have sustained this season.
Pinckneyville went through a 3-game losing streak near the end of December when junior Kenzie Rushing was sidelined with an ankle injury. During that stretch, Nashville defeated the Lady Panthers, 30-17.
Rushing made her return against Murphysboro on Jan. 9, and helped lead the Lady Panthers to a 5-2 record in their next seven games before hosting Nashville at home on Feb. 4.
Pinckneyville would even up the season series with a 31-15 win in that game, but it came against a Hornettes team that was without sophomore Alyssa Cole due to a concussion.
As Rushing deals with a couple of jammed fingers on her left, non-shooting hand, she’s still performing at a high level. Rushing led Pinckneyville with a team-high 30 points in Tuesday’s semifinal win against Sesser-Valier. The junior is over 900 career points and that’s after missing half of her sophomore season with an ACL injury.
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Thursday’s game against Nashville is expected to be a low-scoring affair between two highly talented defenses. Lady Panthers coach Alan Engelhardt knows what his team needs to do in order to be crowned regional champs.
“It’s going to be a close game that comes down to who hits shots down the final stretch,” said Engelhardt. “We don’t expect it to be a high-scoring game. Coach (Doug) Althoff does a great job of game planning and his kids are really well schooled.”
Nashville trampled past Trico in Tuesday’s regional semifinals, 65-33, after leading the Lady Pioneers by 27 points at halftime. Cole led the charge with a team-high 19 points, while senior Rylee Luechtefeld just missed a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Hornettes played a suffocating defense that forced Trico into 24 turnovers. The defensive pressure begins in the backcourt with Sabrina Kollbaum and Emily Schitker, which forces the ball into the paint and Nashville has the length downlow to contest any shot.
Outside of Rushing, Pinckneyville struggles to find a consistent second scorer. The junior does a tremendous job of getting to the rim and finishes at a highly-efficient rate.
Rushing did what she wanted against Sesser-Valier with 22 of her 30 points coming in the paint. Engelhardt expects to see the same sagging man-to-man defense from Nashville that his team has grown accustomed to.
“This is the first year that I’ve seen a Nashville offense with a legitimate big girl that controls the paint,” Engelhardt said in regards to Cole. “We ironically like to run the same man-to-man defense against each other and the defense is usually what gets their offense going.”
The winner of the Sesser-Valier Regional will advance to take on the winner of the Vienna Regional in the Carterville Sectional on Tuesday.
Braden Fogal covers prep sports for the Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at 618-351-5118 or at email@example.com.