Call it payback: Unity buries Illini West in fourth quarter, will play for tourney title at Beardstown

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Unity senior guard Kylee Barry scored 15 points Wednesday night to guide the Mustangs to a 15-point victory over Illini West in the semifinals of the Lady Tiger Classic at Beardstown, Ill. | Matt Schuckman file photo

BEARDSTOWN, Ill. — This time, the roles were reversed.

When the Unity girls basketball team defeated Illini West 50-35 in Wednesday night’s semifinals of the 40th Lady Tiger Classic at Beardstown High School, the victory helped exorcise at least some of the memories from a year ago.

“(Illini West) beat us three times last season, including in the finals of this tournament,” Unity coach Brad Begeman said. “We’ve held on to that memory for a year.”

Unity forward Kylee Barry echoed her coach’s sentiments.

“We definitely had a chip on our shoulder,” she admitted, with a smile.

Barry was one of three Mustangs who scored in double figures to help power them to a second-half pullaway. Unity scored 19 of the game’s final 23 points to break from a 31-31 tie late in the third quarter.

Ashlynn Arnsman (18), Barry (15) and Kyra Carothers (10) combined for 43 of Unity’s points.

The victory moves Unity (16-1) — the No. 1 seed at Beardstown and the No. 3-ranked team in Class 1A currently sporting an eight-game win streak — into the title game at 7 p.m. Thursday against Brown County (14-1). The Hornets, the No. 3 seed, bettered Havana 50-29 in the other semifinal.

Unity’s lone defeat came at the hands of Quincy Notre Dame, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A, 57-53 on December 3. Brown County’s only setback was administered by Unity 63-58 in late November.

“We can play with any (Class 1A) team in the state — if we play well,” Begeman said. “We know the game with Brown County will be tough. It always is.”

Unity’s strongest asset is its overall balance, a fact Begeman feels is lost on some observers because Arnsman, a 6-foot senior who averages a double-double, normally commands so much attention.

“Most teams will focus on Ashlynn, but we have other girls, too,” Begeman said. “You have to guard everyone.”

Barry, who scored 11 of her points in the first half to help Unity cling to a 24-20 halftime edge, said the Mustangs’ balance is a source of both strength and confidence. That balance often allows Unity to dissect opposing defenses, be it immediately or eventually. Against Illini West (11-5), it was eventually when the Mustangs overwhelmed the Chargers down the stretch.

“The balance we have also keeps us focused because we have five key players,” Barry said. “We have both shooters and big posts.”

Arnsman, Carothers and Barry scored 23 of Unity’s final 26 points.

Illini West, which was seeded fifth, saw Rylee Reed score 22 points. She was the only Chargers player to score over the final eight minutes when Unity registered 15 of the closing 19 points. Reed also led all rebounders with six.

Illini West plays Havana (14-2) in the third-place game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

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