Sesser-Valier, Woodlawn advance
Red Devils, Cardinals defensive efforts extend seasons

ZEIGLER – It is no big secret that good basketball teams that continue to have success in the postseason use their defense to set the tone in February and March.

On Wednesday night at the Zeigler-Royalton 1A Regional, both Sesser-Valier and Woodlawn showed just what it takes to keep moving to the right on the state tournament bracket.

The Red Devils forced Thompsonville into a tough beginning and held off the Tigers to win the opening game on Wednesday night, 60-44, while Woodlawn kept Steeleville from making any real scoring moves as they shut down the Warriors in a 66-58 win that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

These two familiar foes will hook up for their third 1A regional championship game in this long standing rivalry between schools that coop in football.

Game time on Friday night at Z-R is 7 pm.

Tyler Winchester, the Red Devils 6-foot-2 shooting ace, delivered three early 3-point bombs against the Tigers' zone defense to get the Red Devils the lead.

Then he and his teammates took care of the rest by shutting down the opposition in the semifinal win.

Coach Shane Garner's club came out against Thompsonville's zone and found Winchester open enough to spark a 15-3 first quarter lead that they never let get below eight-points the rest of the contest.

The Red Devils are now 19-11 and head into the regional title game looking for their third crown in four years.

Winchester led S-V with 19-points while senior guard Lukas Gunter netted 15.

While Winchester was doing his damage from the arc (five 3's) Gunter was getting to the rim, especially when Thompsonville was forced out of its zone defense.

The 6-foot senior didn't score a point in the first quarter but he made sure his other teammates got involved early.

Senior Peyton Rock came off of the bench and added 10-points for the Devils on the inside, including a bucket in the lane that gave S-V a 10-3 lead.

Six-foot-two senior Preston Launius also scored in the early run and Winchester closed the quarter with another trey as Sesser-Valier led by 12.

“Tyler (Winchester) came out hot and it is always nice to get a lead early. We want to be up in the fourth quarter so we can control the tempo. We were able to do that, the guys executed, we got some lay ups and we advanced,” said Coach Garner.

Thompsonville and head coach Pete Gordon finished their campaign with two players in double-digits in scoring.

Six-foot-seven junior center Anthony Darge scored 14-points for the Tigers while sophomore guard Corbin Fitch finished with 12.

Both scored during a brief run in the second quarter that got Thompsonville within striking range at 17-10.

But as strong teams do, the Red Devils pushed the lead back to double-figures as Gunter nailed his only 3-pointer of the evening and Rock scored on a drive past Darge for a lay in.

Gunter took a long rebound and raced to the other end of the floor for a score as Sesser-Valier led 30-20 at intermission.

“It was probably a bad game plan for us to start out in a zone,” said Coach Gordon. “We knew that Chester had played them a zone (last weekend) and we thought maybe we could replicate what they had done. We lost Winchester a couple of times early and they (Sesser-Valier) shot really well against the zone. But once we gave up on the zone and went man it was a pretty even game. Had they not shot the ball well as well as they did in the first quarter maybe the zone would have been the right choice.”

The lead ballooned to 18-points in the first few minutes of the second half, with a 10-2 run by Coach Garner's group.

Lukas Gunter, Joshua Gunter and senior Addison Page all delivered points.

Lukas Gunter score three consecutive buckets to open the sprint and Page's points gave the Red Devils a 40-22 lead with 4:40 left in the third.

A lot of lesser teams, at this point, would have simply faded into darkness but Coach Gordon's club responded by closing the gap back to 10 by the end of the frame.

They went on a 12-4 binge to get it to 44-34 heading into the final quarter.

Fitch and Darge both scored in the final stages of the quarter while teammate Reed Raubach, who finished the night with nine-points, added an important basket.

A score from Darge to open the final quarter got Thompsonville to within eight-points one final time.

Nevertheless, the Red Devils had been down this path before and knew how to close out the regional win.

Three of the four final field goals scored by Sesser-Valier were on lay ups while spreading the floor and running clock with the lead.

Lukas Gunter scored one of the field goals and Rock scored twice in the lane with one of the buckets coming on a rebound of his own missed shot.

Launius and Rock hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 1:08 and Gunter scored on a fast break off of a long rebound to secure the Devils' spot in the Friday finale.

“Kessler and Fitch are great guards for them, they penetrate and dish and Preston (Launius) and Addison (Page) did a good job on them,” said Coach Garner. “They had their work cut out for them.”

The numbers also prove the Red Devils point.

Sesser-Valier finished 24-of-43 from the floor and 6-of-14 from the arc.

The Red Devils added to the Tigers' problems by out rebounding them 28-19 overall, with 13 of the 28 coming on the offensive glass.

“That is a good team (Thompsonville) and Coach Gordon did a phenomenal job getting them ready tonight. They played hard, hat's off to them for playing a great game,” said Coach Garner. “One of our main points coming in tonight was rebounding and we executed very well.”

Coach Gordon saw his team hit just 21-of-49 overall, with just 1-of-11 from the 3-point circle.

Thompsonville started the game just 1-of-9 from the field with five turnovers, digging themselves a hole that they never recovered from as their successful season ends at 18-10.

“I'm proud of the kids and I'm proud of the effort,” said Coach Gordon. “We missed some bunnies in the first quarter and some of that could have been nerves but we are a young team that is still learning to play on that stage. Today was one of those learning experiences for this group. Hopefully it will springboard us into another successful season next year.”

Thompsonville (44) – Kessler 2 0 1-2 5, Roberts 1 0 0-0 2, Fitch 6 0 0-1 12, Raubach 3 1 0-0 9, Darge 7 0 0-1 14, Kirkman 0 0 0-0 0, Dixon 0 0 0-0 0, Furlow 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-20, 3FG-1, FT-1-4, PF-17.

Sesser-Valier (60) – J. Gunter 4 0 0-0 8, L. Gunter 6 1 0-1 15, Winchester 2 5 0-0 19, E. Gunter 0 0 2-2 2, Launius 1 0 1-4 3, Rock 4 0 2-4 10, Boles 0 0 0-0 0, Page 1 0 1-2 3.
2FG-18, 3FG-6, FT-6-13, PF-13.

Fouled Out – Fitch - Thompsonville.
Technical Fouls – None.
The Cardinals, like their rivals did earlier in the evening, got off to a good start and they survived some late mistakes to win their semifinal over the Warriors.

The scoring catalyst for Woodlawn was 6-foot-2 sophomore Blake McKay who finished with 28-points for Coach Brian Gamber.

But perhaps the best performance of the night came from 6-foot-1 sophomore Chase Hollenkamp.

According to Coach Gamber, Hollenkamp is usually assigned the opposition's top offensive threat and the sophomore wants this challenge each night.

Hollenkamp didn't disappoint on Wednesday night as his task was to defend Steeleville junior scoring leader Owen Gross.

Chase “chased” the 6-foot-1 guard around the lot on this night.

Gross ended up with 15-points, but 10 of those points came in the fourth quarter after Woodlawn had taken command.

Hollenkamp held Gross to just a pair of field goals in the first three quarters, a key that wasn't lost on Coach Gamber.

“It's tremendous. He is a kid (Hollenkamp) that guards the best player, every game,” said Coach Gamber. “His name probably wouldn't be mentioned in the scorebook (box score) but we don't win without him. He loves the challenge of guarding. He does an excellent job of moving his feet. He has longer arms than you think and he challenges shots. He's just smart and he knows how to keep guys in front of him. That is a credit to Chase.”

Overall the defense was really good for Woodlawn, as they held the Warriors at bay for most of the matchup as they improved to 21-9 on the season.

They now head into a showdown with the Red Devils on Friday night, with a sectional berth on the line.

Beside McKay, the Cardinals got double-digits in scoring from junior forward Jackson Bennett and 13-points from senior Blake Fewkes.

Steeleville received 16-points from sophomore Austin Hagel and the 15 from Gross.

Senior Eli Wittenborn scored 11-points for the Warriors, whose season ended at 18-12.

“That kid (Hollenkamp) did a tremendous job guarding him (Gross) but we got some shots and we executed the game plan and got it inside, but I will tell you, as much as they talk about their (Woodlawn) offense, their defense was really good tonight,” said Steeleville head coach Aaron Coach Fiene. “When they get the lead, they are tough to beat. They got after all of the loose balls, they work hard and they do everything right. That's a really good team and program. You can tell they know how to play this game.”

The numbers for Woodlawn showed that they were strong on the boards, holding a 30-25 edge, with a few of the offensive rebounds they gave up coming late in the game.

The Cardinals survived 11-turnovers, with six of those coming late in the fourth as Steeleville made a move to try and get back into the contest.

Woodlawn advanced by hitting 7-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter, 16-of-22 overall.

Steeleville hit just 19-of-55 overall from the field, but 9-of-19 from the 3-point arc kept them in the game.

The Cards were 24-of-48 overall, 2-of-7 from the circle.

Hagel hit four 3-point shots in the game, with three coming in the first half.

His third bomb evened the score at 16-16 in the second quarter.

However Woodlawn had the answers on this night to the tough questions.

Fewkes, McKay and Bennett all scored in the second quarter for Woodlawn, a period that ended at 32-26.

The Cardinals got the separation they needed heading into the final frame by going on a 10-2 third quarter run with McKay scoring six of the points.

A drive in the lane, two free throws and a fast break score on a pass from Bennett, all scored by McKay, gave Woodlawn a 47-33 lead going into the fourth.

Four made free throws by Wittenborn and a Gross bucket cut Woodlawn's lead to just 55-47 with 3:12 remaining.

Woodlawn spent most of the final 2:43 at the foul line, converting enough to get the victory.

Steeleville scored five meaningless points in the final :31 seconds to get to within the final margin.

“We preach to the kids that it (defense) is just as important as scoring 20-points,” said Coach Gamber. “Being able to guard and take away the best player from the other team. They (Steeleville) have a lot of weapons and they are one of the better teams that we have played this year.”

Steeleville (58) – Stearns 1 0 0-0 2, Gross 3 3 0-0 15, Mulholland 0 0 0-0 0, Gerlach 0 0 0-0 0, Hagel 2 4 0-0 16, Mevert 0 1 2-2 5, Sutton 0 1 0-0 3, Bartens 0 0 0-0 0, Wilson 1 0 2-2 4, Wittenborn 2 0 7-8 11, Valleroy 1 0 0-0 2.
2FG-10, 3FG-9, FT-11-12, PF-18.

Woodlawn (66) – McKay 9 1 7-8 28, Rynski 2 0 1-3 5, Bennett 5 1 3-6 16, Hollenkamp 1 0 0-0 2, B. Fewkes 5 0 3-3 13, A. Fewkes 0 0 0-0 0, Hu. England 0 0 2-2 2, Maharrey 0 0 0-0 0, Ha. England 0 0 0-0 0, Tiemann 0 0 0-0 0.
2FG-22, 3FG-2, FT-16-22, PF-16.

Fouled Out – Mevert - Steeleville; Bennett - Woodlawn.
Technical Fouls – None.