BELLEVILLE • Joe Muniz knows there were doubters.
When Belleville West was struggling at times this season, like during a four-game losing streak before Christmas, the Maroons’ coach knew some were doubting his team. But he kept asking them to believe.
Belleville West showed what it was capable of on Friday night. The Maroons defeated rival Belleville East 62-58 in a Class 4A regional championship game at East to win their first regional title since 2004.
“We’ve been in this situation four times in my eight years,” Muniz said. “Last time we were here we were just seconds away from winning it. This one is sweet. And more sweet because of the adversity this team has had to endure all season long.
"When we lost five or six in a row before Christmas, we had some doubters," he said. "I credit my staff, I credit my kids for buying in and believing.”
The No. 4 seed in the regional, Belleville West (17-11) has now won six straight games and advances to face Edwardsville (22-5) in the sectional semifinal round Tuesday night at Collinsville. Edwardsville defeated Quincy 59-43 on Friday.
“We just kept saying when we get everybody healthy, we’re going to be a load,” Muniz said. “And we’re a load right now. We’re playing well. We’re playing as well as anyone.”
Belleville West, which was without leading scorer Nick Van Osdale for several weeks because of a broken wrist, was led by 17 points from Michael Schmidt. Van Osdale and Jaylon Owens each scored 10 points, while Kendall Smith added eight points and 14 rebounds. Owens had 10 boards.
“They played good, (and) we played good,” Schmidt said. “I think our biggest part was defense. That’s what we’ve been working on in practice all week. Just defense, defense, defense. And it helped.”
The Maroons got off to a slow start, but led 13-8 after one quarter and 31-21 at halftime after making three 3-pointers in each quarter.
West pushed its lead to as many as 15 points early in the third quarter before Belleville East (19-10) began to piece together a comeback bid.
The Lancers, who had won eight straight games and were seeded second in the regional, struggled for most of the night to get into any kind of rhythm offensively. They picked it up midway through the third quarter behind junior standout Malcolm Hill.
Hill, a University of Illinois recruit who averaged 31.1 points during the last seven games, finished with a game-high 20. East also got 12 points from Darreon Reddick and 11 from Tim Goodwin.
East cut the deficit to three twice early in the fourth quarter, but never got any closer. While West struggled at the free throw line -- making just 13 of 26 attempts -- the Maroons made enough down the stretch to keep the Lancers at arm’s length.
“We cut the deficit and gave ourselves an opportunity,” East coach Ray Hoffman said. “It just wasn’t meant to be. That’s a good basketball team. They’ve got five kids out there who are going to play college basketball.”
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