Familiar foes set for NCOE battle
Meridian, Christopher, Woodlawn return to sectional; Gallatin Co. spoils Cairo's bid

NORRIS CITY – The Norris City-Omaha-Enfield 1A Sectional has three repeat entrants and one newcomer set to battle this week in hope to advance to the Carbondale Supersectional on Tuesday night, March 6.

Christopher, Woodlawn and Mounds Meridian return after winning their second consecutive regional titles respectively.

Gallatin County won its first regional title since 2013 on Friday night by upsetting top-seed Cairo.

The winner of the NCOE Sectional will face the winner of the Nokomis Sectional at SIU Arena a week from today.

The Gallatin County Hawks (20-8) put things together in the regional despite having heavy hearts heading into the Friday night title tilt against Cairo.

Head coach Doug Miller's team had to deal with the emotions of the passing of an iconic figure in Gallatin County athletics death on Wednesday.

Former boy's head coach and current girl's mentor Robert “Radar” Patton passed away at his home.

The long-time fixture on the Hawks' sidelines was 60-years old and his passing sent a shockwave throughout the county as he was a beloved figure in the area.

Following an emotional service during the day on Friday, the Hawks took care of business later that night by eliminating the Pilots from the postseason behind 40-points from senior guard Seth Ramsey.

The 6-foot senior and 2,000-point scorer, hit 22-of-29 free throws himself and capitalized on Cairo's issues at the foul line as the Hawks held on for a 74-64 overtime win.

Cairo was just 14-of-32 from the stripe, a clear contrast in execution.

Ramsey averages 26.4 points a game, one of the top figures in the state, for the Hawks who are 20-8 on the season.

The club won the Greater Egyptian Conference regular season crown and were second in the league tournament. They also had a nice run finishing fourth at the Eldorado Holiday Tournament back in December.

Audie Goebel, a 6-foot sophomore, adds 14.1 points and 4.7 rebounds a game for Coach Miller.

Five-foot-ten sophomore Robbie Prince nets 6.7 p.p.g. to go with 4.3 assists, with most of those passes going to Ramsey.

Five-foot-ten senior Hunter Walters and 6-foot senior Luis Rubio will both have to play big for the Hawks against the strong frontline of Christopher in the opener on Tuesday night.

For the Mounds Meridian Bobcats, the won-loss record this season took a pounding.

Not because of a lack of talent but because a strengthening of their non-conference schedule.

By design head coach Erik Griffin put forth a plan to get his team more ready for the postseason and to say they took some lumps is an understatement.

They opened their regular season losing all five games they played at the Pyramid Tournament at Carterville, losing to the host 3A Lions while also dropping games to 4A Collinsville, 3A Mt. Vernon, 3A Herrin and 3A Marion.

Their stay at the Carbondale Holiday Tournament was no picnic, either, as they lost to Missouri powerhouse Saxony Lutheran and also to Chicago Collins.

The week they spent at the Benton Invitational Tournament produced just one win (over Hamilton County) to go with four losses to 1A Sesser-Valier, 2A Carlyle and 2A Pinckneyville.

The 3A host Rangers also bested the Bobcats in the event.

Coach Griffin, who is recovering from a health issue last week and should be ready to go on Wednesday night, saw his team survived the rough regular season and are now looking for a return trip to Peoria after his first team at Meridian reached the 1A title game in 2015.

Ja'Quan Jones, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, paces the Bobcats with 16.3 points a contest while 6-foot sophomore guard Eddie Robertson added 10.0 points per night.

Up front Coach Griffin has three juniors with size and ability and the numbers bare that out.

Six-foot-six forward Darnell Lowe adds nine-points a night while Damareon Nicholson, a 6-foot-3 forward, tosses in 8.7 points while averaging a team-high 4.3 rebounds.

Demond Vasser, a 6-foot-4 junior, averages 7.6 p.p.g. and 3.5 r.p.g.

Six-foot-five senior Byron Nesby was a part of the state tournament team from two years ago and he is averaging 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounding as a senior leader.

Jabare Patrick, a 6-foot-1 senior, has also been around the program that has been very successful having now won three consecutive regional titles.

Meridian topped Cobden and Goreville to win the 1A Cobden Regional championship last Friday.

The Bobcats led nearly the entire game in their 75-69 victory over the Blackcats.

If there is a hotter team heading into the sectionals than the Christopher Bearcats, it would be tough to prove.

Head coach Eric Stallman's team was blazing hot on Friday night in their dismantling of Black Diamond Conference rival Sesser-Valier to win the 1A Crab Orchard Regional.

The 'Cats hit 72 percent of their shots in the 71-41 romp, canning an uncanny 84 percent (21-of-25) from inside the 3-point arc.

Topping the powerful lineup of Christopher is 6-foot-4 junior Bradley Young, who had a double-double with 12-points and 16-rebounds as Christopher dominated every phase of the win.

He is third on the club in scoring but tops on the glass (13.6 points, 8.8 rebounds) per game.

Kaeleb Pedigo, a 5-foot-9 spark plug guard, popped home 22-points in the regional title game victory and has averaged a club-best 16 p.p.g.

Five-foot-seven senior guard Gabe Schimpf (8.3 p.p.g.) joins Pedigo to form a veteran backcourt.

Eric Curry, a 6-foot-4 junior, also has come up big for Christopher this season (14.3 p.p.g., 5.8 r.p.g.) as has 6-foot-1 freshman Bryce Pratt (5.6 p.p.g., 5.6 r.p.g.).

These Bearcats (17-12) have been a real “bear” on the boards, averaging 24.7 rebounds as a team in 2016-17.

The Bearcats have had quite a roller coaster ride this season, winning 11-straight games as one point but also having a six-game losing stretch where they lost all five games at the West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic.

Coach Stallman put together a tougher non-conference schedule (not unlike Meridian) this season and it has paid off in dividends for the 'Cats who are poised to make their first ever supersectional appearance.

The “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger” moniker fits this club as they make their second consecutive showing in the sectional and are searching for their first such championship in the boy's basketball program's history.

“Seasons are 'up and down' and I guess that is what makes them fun. But it is also what makes it nerve racking,” said Coach Stallman after the regional final about his team's losing streak (six-games) and their long winning streak (11-games) during the season. “Hopefully we can get rolling again.”

Making a long postseason journey is "old hat" for the Woodlawn Cardinals.

Since the implementation of four-class basketball in the state back in 2007-08, these Birds have flown the highest of the 1A teams.

Woodlawn has now played in 10-consecutive regional championship games, winning their eighth regional title on Friday night by beating Midland Trail Conference rival Webber Township 49-43 in overtime.

Despite a “not so pretty” won-loss mark (15-14) Woodlawn now finds itself in a familiar spot, playing a meaningful boy's varsity basketball game in March.

Head coach Brian Gamber stepped into some really big shoes this season, taking over the helm from retired head coach Shane Witzel.

Gamber, who was an assistant and junior varsity head coach the previous two seasons, took over the reigns this winter.

Although the Cardinals didn't put together their usual 20+ win record this year, they still managed to take home a couple of big pieces of hardware that they have owned for the better part of a decade.

Woodlawn won regional number eight and also MTC Tournament number eight in nine years in the league.

The Cardinals topped Waltonville to win the league tournament title held at Wayne City and also took home the Wayne City 1A Regional title by beating the Spartans before handling the Trojans last Friday.

A senior leader and the last remaining starter from the Woodlawn fourth place in 1A state finisher from 2015-16 returned this year for Coach Gamber and he is now back into the sectional for a second time.

Five-foot-nine guard Blake Wollerman (13.4 p.p.g., 5.7 a.p.g.) leads the Cardinals into the sectional.

He has produced some big games this season against a pretty unforgiving schedule.

He posted a 29-point game against 3A Herrin back on January 14.

Jordan Hoppa, a 6-foot-2 senior, stepped into the starting role this season and has pitched in 10.8 points a night for Coach Gamber.

Six-foot-two junior Trey Isaac (4.8 p.p.g., 6.3 r.p.g.) holds down the fort in the paint for Woodlawn.

Zach Ashby, a 5-foot-10 senior, adds 3.2 points a game.

Two underclassmen have stepped up this season for Woodlawn, both are major cogs in the machine that showed improvement throughout the season and are now about .500.

Six-foot sophomore guard Jackson Bennett adds 5.7 points a game while 5-foot-11 freshman Blake McKay has added 8.6 points per contest to the offensive numbers that have improved during a postseason run.

The mix of experience and youth have the Cardinals in the hunt for more state tournament hardware.

The program has a 10-year run of eight regional titles, five sectional titles, four supersectional championships and four different finishes at the Final Four, with a first, second, third and fourth place finishes.

They have “been there, done that and brought home the hardware.”