St. A edges Okawville, wins state title
Drew Gibson hits game winning shot in OT; adds free throws in 49-46 win
PEORIA – Coming up big in crucial times is what turns good teams into great champions.

During the postseason run by the Effingham St. Anthony Bulldogs leading up to the 1A title game against Okawville there were times when things didn't go well.

But in each game Coach Cody Rincker saw his team dig down and manage to win games when they didn't necessarily play their best by making the big plays when they counted the most.

On Saturday afternoon the Bulldogs put everything together and played the kind of game that they were always capable of playing and senior Drew Gibson made the three biggest plays of his prep career to deliver the dream ending.

In the final minute of overtime and his team trailing 46-45, Gibson hit a shot from the left baseline as he was falling down.

The shot somehow found the mark to give his team a 47-46 lead.

After a foul on the other end of the floor that sent Okawville's Shane Ganz to the line with just :05.1 left, Gibson hauled down the missed chance by Ganz which turned out to be the biggest rebound in St. Anthony basketball history.

Gibson then went to the free throw line and calmly made the two most important free throws in the Bulldogs' legacy with :03.1 remaining to give St. Anthony a 49-46 lead.

Okawville's Noah Frederking, who led all scorers with 26-points, got an open look for a 3-pointer that would have tied the game.

However it missed the mark as the buzzer sounded for a St. Anthony championship victory.

It was also a special day for this mentor, as he celebrated his 29th birthday on Saturday with a championship trophy to hoist to the sky.

The Bulldogs, who have been second in the ABV 1A rankings since January 1 behind the Rockets, proved all year that they belonged in the conversation of the best 1A teams in the state.

Verification was earned on Saturday as they now possess the state championship that this program has longed for.

“When you look back at the supersectional (against Woodlawn) we had some nerves and we didn't get off to a good start. But both games, yesterday and today, we came out aggressive and attacked. We were ready to play. That was our message that we're not going to be pushed around,” said Coach Rincker. “We're not going to back down from anyone. We are here for a reason.”

In the school's boy's basketball history, St. Anthony has amassed over 1,300-victories and a nearly .700 winning percentage.

But the big prize had, until now, eluded them.

The Bulldogs got 14-points from Gibson and also 14 from Alex Beesley and 12 from Adam Levitt.

A team that reached the sectional final the year before, the Bulldogs were on a mission heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

“I'll be real honest with you, we knew from the beginning. We go back to last summer the way these guys gelled together, worked together. We knew from an early point that we had something special. Maybe not quite this special but, once we beat Breese Central and some bigger schools we got on a nice run, we felt like we had a shot to do some things in the postseason,” said Coach Rincker. “After that point, we just found ways to win games. Our motto is 'Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together' and everyone who comes in knows their role and they play together.”

For the Okawville Rockets and head coach Jon Kraus, it was a bitter sweet ending to a great tournament run.

For the past four years since the arrival of the school's all-time leading scorer Frederking, the expectations of winning a state title were high.

Each prior season something would happen along the way that kept this program away from Peoria.

But the seniors on this team got the job done this season, reaching the final four and then a championship game.

Frederking ended up with over 2,700 career points and it was fitting that he led all scorers in the title game.

He scored his team's first 17-points in the second half as the Rockets rallied from 10-points down to send the game into overtime.

The problem came as Frederking got little help in the way of scoring as no other Rocket had more than nine points.

St. Anthony got off to a tremendous start, scoring the game's first six-points and led 17-8 at the end of the first quarter.

The Bulldogs broke an 8-8 tie with points from Beesley, Levitt and Gibson who all scored.

Gibson converted a fast break off of a Rockets' turnover and Beesley took the ball to the basket for a nine-point run at the end of one.

It was clear the game plan was to run the offense and get to the basket for St. Anthony.

Junior point guard Cade Walsh hit his only shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left wing on an assist from Gibson, for a 22-12 advantage.

Frederking and Ganz both scored for the Rockets, closing the gap at halftime to just 23-16.

“They (St. Anthony) just punched us right in the mouth and it took us a little bit to get back into it. They just moved better, they screened better. We just didn't do a good job early in the game of digging in on defense. In the second half the kids did a better job of fighting and competing,” said Coach Jon Kraus. “We never could really speed them up. They dictated the tempo early and they handled the ball well.”

After Frederking scored a pair of baskets to begin the third quarter, Beesley got to the rim again for a 3-point play to keep the Bulldogs in control.

St. Anthony got the lead back to double-digits at 32-22 before yet another score from Frederking, a 3-point bomb, closed the gap to seven heading into the fourth.

Junior guard Alex Deters canned a 3-pointer to open the final quarter to once again give the Bulldogs some space at 35-25.

But Frederking continued his hot shooting.

The 6-foot-4 all-stater scored eight-consecutive points to close the score to 35-33.

After a Levitt basket, Okawville's Payten Harre nailed a 3-pointer from the left side of the arc.

A turnover by St. A got the ball back to Okawville and Frederking scored on a driving bank shot to give the Rockets their first lead of the contest at 40-39 with 1:58 to go.

A few moments later, Gibson came around a screen and nailed a 17-footer from the top of the circle to give the Bulldogs back the advantage.

A Frederking free throw (1-of-2) got the score to 41-41.

Gibson, with St. Anthony holding for a final shot, had a look from about 15-feet away in the right corner but he missed the shot as the game went into overtime.

"I really wanted that shot back," said Gibson "I left it a little short. That was the chance to end it. I'm glad I got the opportunity to make up for it."

The senior lefty got that opportunity in overtime and he delivered a state championship to the Effingham team known as the “North Siders” do to their proximity in the city.

Frederking closed out his stellar prep career with 9-of-15 shooting from the floor and 7-of-9 from the foul line.

He also led the club with seven-rebounds.

His 3-pointer in the opening minute of the overtime gave the Rockets a 44-41 lead.

A pair of baskets by Levitt and driving score by Okawville junior Caleb Frederking got the game to 46-45 Okawville.

This set the stage for Gibson as he delivered the championship “goods” as the Bulldogs celebrated a long awaited championship moment.

The Rockets ended up 17-of-32 overall and 4-of-11 from the 3-point line.

St. Anthony finished 19-of-41 overall and 3-of-8 from the arc.

The Bulldogs held a slight rebounding edge at 23-21 and neither team reached double-figures in turnovers as the Rockets had just nine while St. A finished with eight in what was a clean played offensive game.

Okawville finished with a school-record for wins (32-4) but the big prize eluded them for the second time.

The 1987 squad finished second to Venice in the title game of Class A.

“It's these guys. They are tough kids and we play a tough schedule that prepares us. We have been close (getting to Peoria) for the last few years and it has been on our shoulders. I'm sure the kids put pressure on themselves,” said Coach Kraus. “I thought this year they did a really good job of just playing basketball and not letting that (past failures) be a factor. I thought once we got past the supersectional that we would play our best basketball. I thought today we showed a lot of toughness but we just came up short.”

The Bulldogs best finish at state previously was fourth place in 1978.

“We have had a storied program here with many 20-win seasons but it is nice to have a banner up there, it feels pretty special,” said Coach Rincker. “We just continued to work and put in the time. When you do that great things can happen.”

Effingham St. Anthony
Okawville (46) – N. Frederking 8 1 7-9 26, Meier 0 0 0-0 0, Madrid 0 0 0-0 0, C. Frederking 1 0 0-1 2, Ganz 4 0 1-4 9, Harre 0 1 0-0 3, Hensler 0 2 0-0 6.
2FG-13, 3FG-4, FT-8-14, PF-10.

Effingham St. Anthony (49) – Gibson 4 0 6-8 14, Beesley 5 1 1-1 14, Walsh 0 1 0-0 3, Deters 1 1 1-2 6, Levitt 6 0 0-1 12, Nuxoll 0 0 0-0 0, Runge 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-16, 3FG-3, FT-8-12, PF-14.

Fouled Out – None.
Technical Fouls – None.