Musketeers rally past stunned Sparta
Fourth quarter 21-4 run gives Red Bud 69-63 win

CHESTER - In a basketball sense, the agents of fortune turned against the Sparta Bulldogs on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Chester Class A Regional.

Leading 49-38 after a Josh Dolmage baseline drive opened the fourth quarter scoring, coach Ed Belva's team was in command.

However in what seemed like a few moments, Red Bud put together a furious rally that catapulted the Musketeers to a most unimaginable comeback win.

Not even Steven King could have scripted such a bizarre sudden spin of fate.

Red Bud flipped a switch and went on a quick 11-0 run to tie the score at 49, and then followed that up with a 10-2 jaunt, all in just four minutes of play to turn the tables.

The end result was a 21-4 scoring sprint as Red Bud moved into Friday night's title game with a 69-63 come from behind win.

Overcoming its own problems from a stagnant third quarter, the Musketeers connected on all eight of its fourth quarter shots from the field and slammed the door shut with 7-of-8 free throws in the final :47 for win number 20.

More importantly, Red Bud (20-9) will play in its second straight regional title game on Friday night against top seed and prohibitive favorite Pinckneyville.

"One of the things I always tell the kids is that this is a game of runs and somewhere along the line one of the teams is going to get into a little funk and not be able to get out of it and I think that is sort of what happened to Sparta tonight," said Phil Taylor, Red Bud's head coach.
"We threw a trap in there and they really never adjusted to it. We got them rattled and they stayed rattled and that is the reason we won."

After committing seven turnovers in a third quarter in which they failed to make much of a move against the Bulldogs, Red Bud turned up the pressure and forced Sparta into six violations in the final frame.

Normally a man-to-man defensive club, Red Bud scrapped that idea late in the game and went to a halfcourt trap that bothered Sparta. When they extended it to full court, the pressure was too much for the Bulldogs to handle.

"What they (Red Bud) did wasn't something that we hadn't seen all year long but I think we just got in a hurry. We thought we were going to finished it off and get a win but we threw it away a few times and they got momentum and we all know how that works sometimes," said Coach Belva, whose team finished the season 19-11. "I hate it because our effort was good, we really played hard tonight and it is frustrating because we really wanted to play tomorrow night. We just didn't handle the ball tonight against their pressure."

During the scoring jaunt by Red Bud, Sparta failed to score on five consecutive possessions after the Dolmage basket.

Bryant Porter, Red Bud's 5-foot-11 senior guard, led all scorers with 24-points. He was 'money' from the foul line - 13-of-15 - including six-of-seven in the final eight minutes.

But it was Brandon Kunkel that got loose from the Sparta defense late in the game that really changed the momentum.

Kunkel, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, hit three big shots in the fourth quarter and finished with 16-points for the Musketeers.

He and Porter got rolling and took command at the right time for RB.

Kunkel's 'all alone' 3-pointer from the left corner with 6:47 remaining forced a Sparta time out at 49-43 Bulldogs.

His conventional three-point play on a drive against Sparta's 6-foot-5 senior Tim Wilkes added insult to injury.

A spot-up 3-pointer by Porter on a fast break situation tied the game at 49-all at 5:43 on the clock.

Nine points in one minute and the momentum was on the side of the Musketeers.

Eric Bayless scored a pair of buckets in the paint for Sparta sandwiched around a pair of Porter free throws as Sparta got back the lead at 53-51.

However that was the last time the Bulldogs held the advantage as Red Bud showed it was just getting warmed up.

Eight unanswered points with Kunkel, Porter and Aaron Deterding all scoring pushed the Musketeers into the drivers seat.

Dolmage scored 10 points on the night and hit a couple of late shots for Sparta. However coach Belva's team could get no closer than four points the rest of the way.

Sparta had their way for most of the first three quarters and led by nine heading into the final stanza.

The Bulldogs hit six-of-nine shots in the first eight minutes.

Bayless scored eight points in the first half, 16 for the game to pace Sparta to an early front running position.

His nice spin move in the paint with 2:38 left in the opening quarter gave the Bulldogs a 12-6 lead.

A Dolmage score on a transition lob pass from Travis Thurau with :02 left made it 17-10 at the first horn.

Red Bud made a run to get back in the game in the second quarter on the strength of two 3-pointers by Kunkel and a pair of baskets by reserve Ross Wendt.

This 6-foot-4 senior, who plays with a wrap on his arm as a result of a severe burn suffered by falling against a hot radiator at school, converted a three-point play and later put back a rebound that tied the game for the first time since early in the game at 27-apiece.

"I thought that Ross Wendt, who hasn't played a whole lot for us this year because of an injury, came in there in the second quarter and gave us some good minutes off the bench," Taylor added. "This was a good team effort from everyone who played."

Sparta's Tyler Thompson was a bright spot for the Bulldogs, hitting a pair of second quarter 3-pointers and doing yeoman's work guarding Porter for the most part.

Jordan Beckley hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter for coach Belva's troops.

His second long-range bucket and a Tim Wilkes midrange jumper, all part of a quarter ending 6-2 run, made it 47-38 heading to the fourth.

Even so, after the Dolmage score the rest of the game was a full court calamity for the Bulldogs.

"They (Red Bud) are a good team and they have won 20-games but we had them and let them get away," finalized Belva. "I thought they were ready to cash it in late in the third quarter, I think they were frustrated. "If we slow the game down a bit there in the fourth quarter then maybe they don't have enough time to comeback. It (the game) all changed in about two minutes."

The final numbers showed a pretty well played game from both sides although each committed too many mistakes.

Red Bud was sharp in its shooting, tossing in 21-of-37 shots overall (57 percent) and 4-of-11 from behind the arc.

The Musketeers also held a 24-16 rebounding edge.

Following Porter and Kunkel on the scoring honors list was Deterding (11) and Wendt with seven first half points.

Sparta also was accurate from the field, hitting 25-of-51 shots (49 percent) overall and 5-of-17 from long-range.

After Bayless' 16, Beckley added 13 while Dolmage and Wilkes chipped in 10-each.

Nevertheless, the scoring runs by Red Bud at the end separated the two teams and coach Taylor and his players can look forward to another meaningful trip back to Chester on Friday to take on the ABV top-ranked Panthers.

"I have seen them (Pinckneyville) play and it will take a Marshall County-type effort from our kids to compete with them," added Taylor, referring to the Musketeers win over the Marshalls at the Pinckneyville SuperFan Shootout back on January 28.

Red Bud

Red Bud (69) - Porter 4 1 13-15 24, Koopman 1 0 1-5 3, DiCarlo 0 0 0-0 0, Nevois 2 0 0-0 4, Kunkel 2 3 3-3 16, Stenzel 2 0 0-0 4, Wendt 2 3-5 7, Detering 4 0 3-4 11.
2FG-17, 3FG-4, FT-23-32, PF-13.
Sparta (63) - Peck 0 0 0-0 0, Beckley 2 3 0-0 13, Thompson 1 2 0-0 8, Thurau 4 0 2-2 6, Dolmage 4 0 2-2 10, Bayless 6 0 4-5 16, Wilkes 5 0 0-0 10.
2FG-20, 3FG-5, FT-8-9, PF-21.
Fouled Out - None.
Technical Fouls - None.