HUME — Life’s mysteries are those situations which inexplicably occur and appear illogical or defy explanation.
Shiloh High School’s state-ranked girls’ basketball team finds itself in that category this week.
A squad with an abundance of guards and three-point marksmen suddenly has lost its touch on closer — non-defended — shots.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in Thursday’s 42-37 triumph against Arcola, the Raiders had exactly the same game totals — 5 for 14 — from the free throw line as well as from behind the three-point arc.
It’s an ironic turnabout, Shiloh coach Dave Tingley said.
“This has been my best (free throw shooting) team percentagewise in a long time,” Tingley said, “but the last two games, we’ve struggled.”
The ultimate twist is that free throws actually made the difference in the Little Okaw Valley Conference showdown.
There was no mystery about that. The Raiders (21-6) kept Arcola (14-8) off the line (one total attempt).
Arcola coach Nancy Stiff wasn’t complaining about the officiating.
“We don’t have a lot of drivers, kids with that attack mentality,” she said.
What she has — just like in years past — is a squad that places a premium on playing tough defense.
“When you play one of her teams, you face a stout defense,” Tingley said, “that’s always in good position.
“Luckily, we hit enough free throws to pull it out.”
Shiloh took the lead for good on a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Lauren Moses to end the first quarter. The Raiders took the ball out of bounds under their own basket with 1.4 seconds left and tried a lob to Moses in the lane.
The Purple Riders deflected the ball and Moses tracked it down, going away from the basket, beyond the three-point arc. She rose with a turn-around jump shot that gave Shiloh a 15-13 lead.
Moses scored a game-high 14 points and was also the Raiders’ top free throw shooter (3 for 4). Her teammates ended 4 of 14 from the line. Moses had a double-double, hauling down a game-high 13 rebounds.
From Stiff’s perspective, defense wasn’t the issue.
“We don’t have enough people scoring for us,” she said. “If we could find a couple more kids to score three or four more baskets, it would change a lot of things.”
Cara Edwards scored 13 points and Taylor Edwards added 12 for Arcola.
Shiloh’s seventh consecutive 20-win season wasn’t a feat Tingley considered a given in the preseason.
“Because our conference is so strong, I thought 20 would be hard to achieve,” he said. “To get 21 with the schedule we’ve had was really tough.”
Most years, a challenging schedule will pay dividends in the postseason. The Raiders’ postseason path, however, could line them up against the LOVC schools they’ve battled.
The top three seeds for the Villa Grove Class 1A Regional are — in the same order — the same three schools that went 1-2-3 in last week’s LOVC Tournament: Tri-County, Shiloh and Villa Grove.
“Those teams have a combination of a lot of seniors who’ve played varsity a long time,” Tingley said.
One of Shiloh’s veterans was Thursday’s birthday girl — 18-year-old Morgan Wood — who nailed two three-pointers in the second quarter, accounting for her team’s only baskets, and helping Shiloh lead by seven points at halftime.
“She won’t ‘wow’ you with her stature,” Tingley said about the 5-foot guard, “but a lot of people have told me they love watching her play. She’s one of the area leaders in three-pointers, and she’s shooting 45 percent. That’s a great combination.”
Stiff said Shiloh’s nucleus of interchangeable guards and the 6-foot-1 Moses inside makes it a tough team.
“They are quick as lightning,” she said. “When you have that speed and ball handlers, plus the big girl inside, it’s hard to defend, but our kids defended very well tonight.”
Off and running
Playoff pairings for girls’ basketball are out. Here’s what prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner is thinking as the regular season enters its final 10 days for small-school programs:
Schlarman as a third seed at Armstrong-Potomac? Here’s why such rankings are difficult to make. Will it be the Schlarman team that lost early in the season to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (now 3-20) or the one that overpowered No. 1 regional seed Armstrong-Potomac (15-8) by 31 points earlier this week. If focused and healthy, the Hilltoppers can get as far in basketball as the volleyball team did (super-sectionals) last November.
There’s good news for the Sangamon Valley Conference. Sort of. Three of the four regional sites that feed into the Clifton Central Sectional are from the SVC. St. Joseph-Ogden is the team to beat at Westville, and Watseka is the team to beat at Hoopeston Area’s regional. Meanwhile, at the Unity Regional, the team to beat is St. Thomas More, which is No. 1 in the state and already owns 25-plus-point wins against SJ-O and Watseka.
State-ranked Centennial, boosted by a talented and deep senior class that has been part of 20-win seasons all four years in high school, can’t afford to look past the Rantoul Regional, but nonetheless there could be an intriguing matchup at the sectional. A possible opponent in the Mount Zion Sectional could be Springfield Southeast, one of three opponents to beat the Chargers in the first 25 games. A win there could mean a ticket to state.