Joppa takes tourney title
Rangers rally past Elverado, force three-way tie, win championship with tiebreaker
 The popular tee-shirt slogan that has been all the rage in the past year was a fitting epitaph for the final game of the 5th annual Dongola Christmas Round-Robin.

Coach Zach Essex and his Joppa Rangers can now put a new spin to the old saying.

“Stay Calm and Win Championships.”

This program hasn't been used to winning games, let alone taking home titles in its recent history.

However on Thursday night in the finale of the Dongola Christmas Tournament Coach Zach Essex saw his team out play SEC conference rival Elverado in the final three quarters to pull away for a 57-44 victory to forge a 2-1 mark and a three-way tie for the tournament championship.

With the tiebreaker rule in place to determine the winner (free throw percentage) it was the Rangers that were the best in the tournament and thus the championship went to them after the 14-point win over the Falcons.

In what turned out to be a outlandish ending of the game, as Elverado self destructed with an intentional foul and a pair of technical fouls in the final moments, it was Joppa that kept its cool all the way to the finish.

After spotting the Falcons an early lead, the Rangers climbed back into contention as they tightened up their defense in the final three quarters to earn the title.

In the rubber game of the three games played by the two teams so far in 2016-17, Joppa is now 2-1 against Elverado with this game producing a first place trophy.

Five-foot-eleven junior guard Thomas Kendall led all scorers with 23-points with his final six-points being the most important in two different ways.

Junior forward Kaleb Cox, a 6-foot-5 starter, added 15-points for the Rangers' attack while senior forward Hunter Johnson popped home eight-points.

All three of those Joppa players were members of the all-tournament squad announced at the end of the game.

Kendall finished off the bizarre ending of the game by giving his club the championship two different ways.

Late in the contest with frustration setting in on the Elverado team, an intentional foul was called on the Falcons' sophomore guard Aquntez Penn as he fouled Kendall while the Rangers were running out the clock.

In frustration Penn got himself an additional technical foul for saying something to another official.

This triggered a reaction from the Falcons bench where head coach Jacob Emling had to be restrained by one of his players as he, too, was issued a technical foul for coming out on the floor.

This set the stage for Kendall, who toed the free throw line with his team up 51-44 with :19.3 remaining.

Kendall calmly sank all six free throws in succession.

Not only did the free throws add to the game totals for the victory, it helped raise the Rangers' free throw percentage to get Joppa the tournament hardware.

“We came together as a team. Down the stretch we didn't let the antics of what was going on around us to effect us. We used patience and poise, something my boys pray about every single day we play. They came through and did it patiently,” said Coach Essex. “It (patience) is something that we haven't done a very good job of it at times. But when it got down and dirty we were able to calm it down.”

Kendall hit all nine of his free throws in the game.

While Joppa was 21-of-27 from the stripe, the Falcons were just 8-of-15, which proved to be the difference between first place and a tie for second.

The top two scorers for Elverado were Penn and 6-foot-5 junior forward Zee Johnson.

Penn notched 13-points while Johnson added 12.

Those two kids helped the Falcons get going early.

Johnson scored his first points of the game on a drive in the lane and Penn followed that up with a pair of 3-point bombs.

His second one of the frame with 2:36 left forced a Joppa timeout at 10-2 Falcons.

Elverado forced four first period turnovers by the Rangers and a 1-of-8 shooting performance as they led 12-4 at the horn after a drive to the basket by senior guard Sage Sarensen.

However for the Falcons, after that excellent first quarter beginning, things didn't go well the rest of the way as planned.

Joppa got going after trailing 14-4 following a rebound basket by Elverado's Joey Dunham.

The Rangers began getting the ball inside to Cox and sophomore forward Griffin Greer.

Greer converted a three-point play, while being fouled by Dunham, then Cox and Kendall added points in what turned out to be a 16-6 run to end the half.

A baseline drive by Hunter Johnson, a steal and fast break lay in by Cox and a free throw by Cox late in the quarter evened the score at 20-20 heading to the lockerroom.

But more importantly, the Cox free throw came after he induced Zee Johnson into his third personal foul with :29.2 remaining in the second quarter.

Johnson, who is an important piece of the puzzle for the Falcons upsurge this season, picked up his fourth foul going over the back on an offensive rebound attempt in the first minute of the second half.

The Falcons' forward did score a quick basket on a drive a few moments later before heading to the bench with Elverado up 22-20.

This would be the final lead of the contest for Coach Emling's team.

Joppa scored the next seven-points with Kendall getting five of the markers with a drive in the lane a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.

A bucked on an offensive rebound by Hunter Johnson gave the Rangers a 27-22 advantage.

Dunham scored for the Falcons to stop the run but Johnson added yet another score on an inbound play with :05 left for a 29-24 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Kendall scored 16 of his 23 in the fourth.

He nailed a 3-pointer to open the final frame and then delivered a conventional three-point play on a drive to the basket while being fouled by Sarensen.

His converted free throw forced an Elverado timeout at 39-31 with 3:59 remaining.

The Falcons would get no closer than four-points the rest of the way as Joppa pulled away for the win.

The last hurrah for Elverado was a bucket by Penn on a drive in the lane to cut the Rangers advantage to just 49-44 with :53 left.

Kendall hit a pair of free throws with :35.5 to go and just before the Elverado “come-apart.”

Following a missed free throw by Falcons' forward Trey Bernardini, Joppa's Johnson got the rebound and got the ball up court to Kendall who was fouled pretty hard by Penn.

This was deemed excessive by the official which was called intentional.

This escalated into a technical foul which triggered the bench tech.

Kendall nailed the free throws and the coffin shut on the Falcons' chance for the title, their second one in the events' brief history.

“He is honestly one of the best shooters in southern Illinois, he just doesn't shoot a lot,” said Coach Essex about Kendall. “He made some key shots for us down the stretch and basically the boys made key plays. We (the coaches) didn't have to say a lot. They (the kids) knew what kind of stage they were on and were focused.”

Neither team shot the ball well from the floor with Joppa being slightly better with a 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) showing overall and 2-of-11 from the arc.

Elverado ended up 15-of-46 (32.6 percent) and 5-of-14 in 3-point attempts.

The Falcons held a slight 29-26 rebounding edge while Joppa was better handling the ball with just nine-turnovers compared to 10 for Elverado.

The two teams, who are entered into the same three regular season tournaments, will meet again at the first ever Egyptian Mid-Winter Tournament coming up on January 17-21.

They are slated to play the 21st at 6:30 pm. Both teams are now 10-4 on the season.

Game 6
Joppa (57) – Meyers 0 0 0-0 0, Kendall 4 2 9-9 23, Hutchason 0 0 4-5 4, Cox 5 0 5-9 15, Johnson 3 0 2-2 8, Greer 3 0 1-2 7.
2FG-15, 3FG-2, FT-21-27, PF-14.

Elverado (44)
– Penn 1 3 1-1 13, Sarensen 1 0 0-0 2, Dunham 2 0 2-2 6, Johnson 5 0 2-6 12, Caraker 1 0 3-6 5, White 0 2 0-0 6, Bruce 0 0 0-0 0, Funk 0 0 0-0 0, Bernardini 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-10, 3FG-5, FT-8-15, PF-21.

Fouled Out
– Sarensen, Dunham, Johnson - Elverado.
Technical Fouls
– Penn - Elverado, Elverado Bench.
The Pirates did their part to get into the championship picture with a win over the hosts to go 2-1 in the event.

After posting a win over Joppa the previous day along with a loss to Elverado, Pope County closed out its stay with a win over the hosts.

Jacob Floyd, a 6-foot-6 senior center, led the Pirates (5-8) with 13-points.

Sophomore guard Sabastion Fasolo hit a trio of 3-pointers for nine-points while 6-foot-4 junior Josh Floyd chipped in seven.

Pope County, who trailed 27-23 at halftime, shut down the Demons in the second half.

The Pirates, who were up just 29-28 in the third quarter, went on a 15-2 run to shift the tide.

Coach Jim Simmons' club outscored Dongola 24-6 in the final two quarters to forge a 2-1 tie with both Joppa and Elverado in the four-team round-robin tournament. 

Game 5
Pope County
Dongola (33) – Thompson 1 2 1-4 9, Smith 2 2 0-4 10, Treat 0 0 2-2 2, Duty 1 0 0-2 2, Zavala 0 0 0-0 0, Freeman 0 0 0-0 0, Tarpley 0 0 0-0 0, Stokes 0 0 0-0 0, Williams 1 0 1-2 3, Hatton 2 0 3-4 7, Thomas 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-7, 3FG-4, FT-7-18, PF-21.

Pope County (47) – Hobbs 0 0 3-6 3, Grider 0 0 2-3 2, Davis 1 0 0-0 2, Fasolo 0 3 0-0 9, Z. Rison 0 0 0-0 0, Campbell 0 0 0-0 0, Wilson 0 0 0-0 0, J. Rison 1 0 2-5 4, Walker 1 1 0-2 5, Blankenship 0 0 0-0 0, Ja. Floyd 6 0 1-2 13, Jo. Floyd 3 0 3-5 7.
2FG-12, 3FG-4, FT-11-23, PF-15.

Fouled Out – Thompson - Dongola.
Technical Fouls – None.