By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON —
Mt. Vernon’s Lady Rams capped off a conference crown with a 20-win season Tuesday night at Changnon Gym.
On the strength of a 15-2 run in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, the Lady Rams ran away from Cahokia with a 59-44 victory - the first 20-win season in eight years for the Lady Rams.
“That’s been a goal of ours since we started,” said Lady Rams’ coach Jeff Lonnon. “We had three goals:To win 20, win the conference and win a regional so we’ve got two out of three now and we’ve only got one more to go.”
Lonnon said the victory was significant to make sure the team is clicking on all cylinders before postseason play.
“You always want to end on a high note when you go into a regional. You don’t want to end with an upset,” Lonnon said. “We held our own tonight. They’re bigger than us, stronger than us and faster than us, but we played basketball and we stayed disciplined. I was proud of our kids.”
On “Senior Night” Lonnon gave a brief start to Haley Lockhart, the senior who missed most of the season after suffering a knee injury in early December. Like in most games without Lockhart, the Lady Rams had a balanced scoring attack with senior Kelby Kujawa leading the offense with 20 points. Senior Aaliyah Palmer contributed 18 points, and Hannah Owens - forced to pick up the slack in the middle with the absence of Lockhart - added 14.
“It was Senior Night and we got our conference championship last week and our next goal was to get to 20 wins. We really worked hard to achieve that and went out and got it tonight,” said Kujawa, who was moved by Lockhart’s presence on the floor.
“It was great. When she got hurt she had to go out for the season. It really hurt us but we came together as a team. Getting her back on the court one more time was amazing,” she said.
Mt. Vernon led just 11-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Lady Rams then went on that 15-2 run with Kujawa leading the charge with a pair of 3-point baskets. She had 14 at the end of the half and was perfect at the charity stripe on 8-of-8 shooting.
After Cahokia cut the lead to 26-15, the Lady Rams went on another 15-0 run - including eight straight from Owens to start the second half to take their largest lead of 26 points, 41-15, with just under six minutes to go in the third quarter.
“We’ve been balanced all year, and when we’ve lost it’s probably because we weren’t balanced,” Lonnon said. “This team has to be balanced. When we lost Haley we lost 17 points out of our lineup. We’re peaking at the right time I think. Our inside game is good and our shooters are shooting really well.”
The Lady Rams finish the regular season at 20-5 and are the top seed in the Herrin Regional which starts next week. The Lady Rams will play the winner of the Herrin-Marion contest at 6 p.m. Tuesday.