CHAMPAIGN — Rock Island girls' basketball coach Thad Hoover asked to not make the story about Thursday's championship game in the Class 4A Champaign Centennial Sectional too negative.
However, it would be hard to find a lot of positives in a game the state's fourth-ranked Rocks felt like they had stolen from them in a 48-44 overtime loss to top-ranked Edwardsville.
Hoover was at a loss to say much positive about anything but the heart and guts his team played with against a lot of adversity, especially in the second half.
"I'm tired of the same old (stuff) from the IHSA," Hoover said. "I don't care what I say because nothing has helped in the past. We have to make a three- or four-hour trip, and we have the same refs every year and it is the same situation.
"Every single time there was a big call to be made one of two guys made the call, and it was against us every time. The girls played their hearts out and they deserve better."
In the end, Rock Island (24-8) was whistled for 21 fouls and Edwardsville was called for just seven. The Tigers (29-0) shot 23 free throws, making 18. The Rocks shot two charity tosses.
"This is a sectional game between two of the top teams in the state, and you're telling me it is a (23-2) free throw disparity?" Hoover said. "That's a crime and unbelievable. We see these same refs every year, and the one is calling (Edwardsville coach Lori Blade) by her first name when he introduces himself before the game."
Rock Island junior star Brea Beal was the only Rocky player to get free throws in the game, but she was pretty sure she should have had several more.
"I think there were a lot of calls that they didn't make that they should have, and a lot of calls they did make that they shouldn't have," Beal said. "I'm not usually one to blame the refs, but there were some calls that should have been made."
Added Hoover, "This is the defending Ms. Basketball, and she doesn't deserve to get one call? Then, they call a charge in a huge spot. Yet, their players got every call. When we blocked a shot, every one was a foul."
The Lady Rocks played a near-perfect first half, leading 24-17 at halftime, as Beal had 10 of her 15 points and Chrisyln Carr had nine of her 15. In the second half, the Tigers took Beal away with two and sometimes three defenders.
"We played really well as a team when they did that," Beal said. "We had some other people step up and make plays to keep the offense going. It still makes it hard to get myself involved."
Beal had just five second-half shot attempts, and her only make was Rock Island's lone basket in overtime.
The Rocks fell behind by as many as five in the final quarter but refused to fold. With 17.7 seconds left, Carr missed a 3, Beal missed a 3 from the corner and Carr grabbed the rebound and buried a triple to tie the game at 41.
Edwardsville missed at the other end, Carr rebounded and was tackled near midcourt, but no foul was called. It would have been the Tigers' seventh, and Carr would have shot a one-and-one with a second left.
"It was that way the entire night," Hoover said. "I worked too hard to have it end this way. And more important, these girls worked too hard to have it end that way."
Myriah Haywood led Edwardsville with 18 points (8 of 9 free throws), Rachel Pranger added 14 (4 of 6 free throws) and Kate Martin had nine (5 of 6 free throws).