Warriors rally for OT win
Luke Richards hits two free throws to top Fairfield in battle of unbeatens

– It was a battle of unbeaten teams at Fairfield on Friday night that turned out to be a defensive gem and an offensive struggle.

At least for the early going.

Both the host Mules and the visiting Casey-Westfield Warriors battled for 32 minutes of regulation and another four minutes of bonus play in overtime in front of a packed house at Fairfield's gymnasium dubbed “The Mule Barn.”

Six-foot-six Casey-Westfield forward Luke Richards didn't want a second overtime to happen.

This senior took care of business in the extra session, scoring his teams' final six points, including a pair of game winning free throws with :07.1 remaining, in a 60-58 overtime victory which pushed the Warriors to 10-0 on the season.

Richards finished with 18-points on the night for Casey-Westfield while yanking down 11-rebounds for his unbeaten club.

Sophomore guard Noah Livingston added 17-points to the victory march for C-W while senior guard Marcus Downs tossed in 12.

It was a signature win for this Little Illini Conference program for 2018-19 campaign in a postseason atmosphere.

While both Casey-Westfield and Fairfield struggled with turnovers and missed shots early, the visitors were the ones who made the big plays and got the biggest defensive stops late in the contest to get the well deserved road victory.

The host Mules take a bitter loss in a game in which they led by 14-points in the second quarter after a 21-3 run produced a 28-14 advantage midway through the second quarter.

“We were right there in the second quarter. We could've blown it wide open. But good teams have a knack for coming back and they did. We had two of their starters with three fouls each but we had some costly turnovers,” said Coach McElravy. “We like to play quick but we also need to play under control and hopefully we will get a little better with that.”

Coach Scott McElravy saw eight different Mules ink the book with 6-foot-6 senior forward Brian Estes leading the way with 16-points.

Six-foot-three sophomore forward Landon Zurliene added 15-points for the Mules.

Zurliene nearly changed the ending of this epic story before the credits' rolled

After the Richards' made free throws gave C-W the lead, an inbounds pass and a scramble for the ball that went out of bounds, left the Mules the length of the court to go with just :05.2 remaining.

Zurliene caught a pass near mid-court and he got close enough from the left wing to let fly a 25-foot, or further, 3-pointer that would have won the game for Fairfield.

However the shot hit off of the rim as the horn sounded, leaving the Mules (11-1) with their first defeat of the season.

“He is a load. I thought we had him (Richards) fouled out on a charge call but that's okay. You can't lean on one play,” said Coach McElravy. “And I thought we did a pretty good job on him most of the night. They don't just have him. Their sophomore guards are really good. They are a really, really good team.”

Statistically speaking, Coach Tom Brannan's squad won a key battle on this night that led to the win.

The Warriors, with Richards leading the way, won the rebounding war (35-26).

As a matter of fact Richards scored his first two buckets of the game in the first quarter off of offensive rebounds.

Downs and Livingston scored early and senior guard Ethan Gilbert, who ended up with six-points for C-W, hit a pair of free throws as the Warriors took an 11-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

It got so bad in the Mules second quarter scoring rampage that Coach Brannan burned three of his timeouts during the onslaught.

Estes got loose for 11-points during the second quarter crusade.

He scored on a drive to the basket and a lob pass from junior guard Wyatt Gilbert which gave the Mules a 13-11 lead.

Estes added two more baskets and 3-of-4 free throws in the stretch.

Zurliene added eight-points with a pair of 3-point bombs and a fast break score.

His second haymaker from 20-feet with 4:22 before the half push Fairfield to a double-digit margin at 23-12.

Estes lured Richards into a pair of fouls less than a minute apart and his free throws gave the Mules a 14-point advantage.

More importantly it sent Richards to the bench with his third personal foul as the Warriors were clearly on the verge of being sent home with a tough loss.

However, as championship caliber teams do, Casey-Westfield responded before halftime as they scored the final seven-points of the second quarter.

Downs, Livingston and sophomore guard Will Hosselton each produced points.

Downs converted on a backdoor cut the the basket and Livingston finished off a drive to the goal with a three-point play.

A transition bucket by Hosselton was part of the 7-0 shot in the arm the Warriors needed heading to intermission.

“We got off to a pretty good start but we went through a stretch where we were lackadaisical. We threw the ball away too many times and they made their run,” said Coach Brannan. “We told them that we have to take care of the ball. Our board says 'Cherish Every Possession' and that is what we strive for.”

Both teams played much better in the second half.

The Mules held the lead throughout the third quarter but C-W closed the margin.

The Warriors started the period with six consecutive made field goal attempts.

With Richards back on the floor, he got involved by hitting a pair of shots in the paint, one on a nice assist from Livingston.

Fairfield starting point guard Jayzale O'Neal spent part of the first half (like Richards) on the pine with foul trouble.

O'Neal scored on a couple of drives in the lane in the third quarter.

Two Fairfield players; junior Luke Dagg and senior Cody Cantrell, scored a basket each to finish the third frame with the Mules clinging to a 41-35 lead.

Richards, who was nursing three fouls, picked up his fourth personal on an illegal screen with 2:56 remaining.

Unfortunately for Fairfield, he didn't pick up his fifth foul the rest of the contest.

The Mules got the lead up to eight twice in the early part of the fourth quarter but couldn't put away C-W.

An 8-0 run tied the game at 45-all for the Warriors.

A score on a cut to the basket by Downs and consecutive 3-pointers from Livingston and Hosselton tied the game.

Estes continued to shine as he converted the Mules' next possession into a three-point play while being fouled by Downs.

Casey-Westfield got a lead late in regulation with Hosselton and Richards scoring.

Hosselton took an inbounds pass and drove the baseline for a score while being fouled by Fairfield senior Reese Lee.

Although he didn't convert the free throw, C-W was down just a point.

A rebound bucket for Richards with 1:50 left gave the Warriors a one-point lead.

O'Neal tied it moments later making 1-of-2 charities.

Richards again scored in the lane as Casey-Westfield led 53-51 at the 1:27 mark.

A key play with just under a minute to play could have won the game in regulation for the Warriors.

Livingston made a steal and headed the length of the court for a score that would have put C-W up by four.

But the sophomore misfired on the lay in and his teammate Hosselton was call for an over the back foul on the rebound, sending O'Neal back to the line.

His two made free throws with :54.1 left evened things at 53-53.

Fairfield had a chance with :09.8 left after a timeout, but O'Neal was called for traveling, which gave the ball back to Casey-Westfield with just :01.2 remaining.

A long three-quarter court shot by Richards was well short, sending the two unbeaten titans to an extra session to decide the outcome.

Richards, however, saved his best for last as his late game heroics gave his club a well earned win.

He scored 10 of the Warriors final 11-points.

“This is a great (win) in a tough place to play. It is more about us and giving us more confidence. I think now we have a feel that 'we can play and we are legit' and we can beat anyone if we play the right way,” said Coach Brannan.

The Warriors, after a very poor first half, settled in and made better decisions in the final two quarters and overtime.

Shooting the ball they ended up 23-of-56 overall (41 percent) with just 4-of-14 from long range.

After committing 11 first half turnovers, the Warriors only had six after halftime (17 total).

Of their rebounding edge, 13 of their 35 boards were on the offensive glass.

The Mules ended up with similar overall numbers.

Fairfield was 22-of-53 from the field (41.5 percent) with 3-of-9 from the arc.

After 13 turnovers in the first half, Coach McElravy's club only had four in the final 20 minutes.

“I give them credit. They played much better defense that what I had seen on film,” said Coach McElravy. “We watched every one of their games and we felt like we were very prepared. Their defense was excellent.”

There is no rest for the weary as both of these combatants have tough holiday tournaments to deal with after Christmas.

The Mules are the top-seed at the Eldorado Holiday Tournament that plays December 27-29.

Casey-Westfield heads to Terre Haute (IN.) South High School for the 19th annual First Financial Wabash Valley Classic.

It begins December 26th.

It is a blind draw tournament, which is unique for high school basketball.

“We would love to play them again in the postseason (sectional at Vandalia) tonight it was two good teams battling,” said Coach McElravy. “Vandalia, we go there every summer for camp since I have been here and it is like a second home for these kids. It would be great to play them again there.”

Casey-Westfield (60) – Gilbert 0 1 3-4 6, Downs 5 0 2-5 12, Hosselton 2 1 0-1 7, Livingston 4 2 3-3 17, Richards 8 0 2-5 18, Dallape 0 0 0-0 0, Hills 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-19, 3FG-4, FT-10-18, PF-17.

Fairfield (58) – Lee 2 0 0-0 4, Gilbert 2 0 2-4 6, O'Neal 1 0 3-4 5, Hixenbaugh 3 0 0-0 6, Estes 5 0 6-7 16, Cantrell 2 0 0-0 4, Zurliene 3 3 0-0 15, Dagg 1 0 0-2 2.
2FG-19, 3FG-3, FT-11-17, PF-17.

Fouled Out – Hixenbaugh - Fairfield.
Technical Fouls – None.