Cardinals "clamp down" on Tigers
McKay nets 27-points, Woodlawn adds to trophy case with 58-40 regional title win
- The Woodlawn Cardinals have earned much better grades offensively in 2018-19 than they achieved on Friday in the title game of the 1A Wayne City Regional.

However on the defensive side of the floor Coach Brian Gamber's squad earned an emphatic “A+” in their runaway win over Thompsonville.

Woodlawn totally dominated the Tigers in a 58-40 victory as the program snagged it's ninth regional title in 12 years of four-class basketball and 11th regional crown in the program's history.

Junior guard Blake McKay provided the offensive punch for the Cardinals as they improved to 25-5 on the season while advancing to the Gallatin County Sectional on Tuesday night.

The 6-foot-1 junior guard notched 27-points on the night.

Six-foot-three senior forward Jake Martin tossed in 14-points while grabbing a game best 14-rebounds for Woodlawn.

The Cardinals never trailed against the 'state-ranked' Tigers, who saw their record breaking season close at 30-3.

Coach Pete Gordon's crew never got it going as their 16-game win streak was snapped by the last team to defeat the Tigers.

Woodlawn topped the Tigers 69-43 in the third place game of the Sesser-Valier Holiday Tournament back on December 29.

Thompsonville senior guard and playmaker Tyson Kessler ended his prep roundball career with 16-points while sophomore forward Brady Furlow pitched in eight-points.

For the second straight time, Woodlawn held 6-foot-7 senior Anthony Darge to just two-points while the Cardinals also covered 6-foot-2 junior guard Corbin Fitch, holding him to just three-points.

“Our intensity wasn't there tonight. Maybe the inexperience of not being in a regional championship game. You're talking about a team (Woodlawn) that is in it every year compared to us, this is our first one in 16 years and our third overall,” said Coach Gordon. “It was just some poor execution early and give Woodlawn credit. They're not going to wait for you to join in on the fun.”

Just how good were the Cardinals defensively on this night?

They held Thompsonville to 20-points below their scoring average for the year while forcing the normally good shooting squad (51 percent) down to just 33 percent on the night from the floor.

The Tigers ended up 14-of-42 overall while only 3-of-18 from beyond the 3-point circle.

Woodlawn controlled the boards, out rebounding Thompsonville 33-19 with Martin and McKay (seven rebounds) keeping the Tigers from getting many second chances.

The Tigers, with all of the missed shots, gathered just five offensive rebounds.

“That is what we talked about all year. Defense plays every night. We knew we were really going to have to guard them,” said Coach Gamber. “So many guys stepped up tonight. Kessler is a handful and he has had an unbelievable career. We tried to get some switches on him, try to force him outside to take 3's instead of mid-range or getting to the basket. Of course with the big guy (Darge) we were on Jake (Martin) about trying to be physical and don't let him get to a soft spot, block him out. Spangler on #4 (Fitch) did a nice job of eliminating his drives to the basket.”

McKay got Woodlawn off to the best possible start.

On the first possession, the Tigers worked the ball to Furlow in the right corner and the sophomore launched a 3-pointer that was blocked by McKay.

The Cardinals' guard grabbed the carom and threw it off of a Thompsonville player out of bounds to get the ball back for Woodlawn.

Then on the other end of the floor, the Tigers watched in dismay as McKay “lit the offensive fire.”

McKay scored the game's first 10-points in succession.

His driving lay in got Woodlawn on the board in the first minute and he caught the Tigers napping on an inbounds play, grabbing a lob pass in the lane for a tip in while being fouled by Kessler.

The three-point play kept things moving for the Cardinals.

After a defensive stop, McKay spotted up on the left wing in transition and nailed a 3-point bomb.

A Woodlawn steal and fast break lay in by McKay forced a Thompsonville timeout as the Tigers were already in trouble, down 10-0 with 5:40 left.

“We just try to keep our energy up. We talked about it in the locker room. Whether we get off to a good start or a bad start, we want to keep the energy and play consistent. We wanted to stay focused on every possession. We got off to the great start and it was important for us to stay locked in,” said McKay. “We all had our assignments (defensively) and it was the little details that made the biggest difference. Defense and defensive rebounds have been a focal point for us all year.”

When 6-foot-2 senior Aaron Spangler grabbed his own rebound off of a miss for a score moments later, Woodlawn was up 12-0.

“We wanted to get off to a big start. We knew if we did we could kind of take their big crowd out of it. They (Thompsonville) thrive on turnovers and then converting,” said Coach Gamber. “So we knew we had to take care of the ball and not let them have run out scores. We felt like if we didn't give up many of those that they would have a hard time scoring on our halfcourt defense.”

The Tigers finally got going offensively, getting points from Furlow and senior Tyler Jones.

With Darge on the bench after picking up his second personal foul, the middle was open for Martin and he benefited from the Darge absence with three baskets in the paint in the final 2:31 as Woodlawn led 20-8 at the end of the quarter.

The Cardinals had their worst quarter of the night in the second as they committed six of their 12 turnovers and hit only 1-of-4 field goal attempts.

But as it goes with most championship caliber teams, the defensive end “held the fort.”

Thompsonville had its best chance to cut into the Cardinals' lead but they couldn't convert from the foul line as they combined to hit just 4-of-9 from the stripe.

The Tigers missed five consecutive free throws in the final 1:50 of the frame.

Trailing just 24-16 in the final seconds, Thompsonville lost Woodlawn junior guard Chase Hollenkamp who found himself open from the right corner behind the 3-point line.

His trifecta, the only bucket of the period for Woodlawn, sent the Cardinals to the half up 27-16.

“I thought our kids made some nice adjustments late in the first quarter and in the second quarter but we just missed too many free throws and too many opportunities that could have changed a eight to ten point game down to a one or two point deficit,” said Coach Gordon. “Then we gave up that late 3-pointer and momentum really shifted. In second half foul trouble came back to haunt us and we were out of sorts the rest of the way.”

Kessler started the second half with a basket on a drive in the lane which cut the deficit to under double-digits.

It was the final time that Thompsonville was within single-digits.

Five-foot-ten sophomore Jackson Tiemann canned a 3-point bomb from the left wing on a nice assist from Martin, which began an 11-2 run to push the Cardinals closer to the regional championship.

McKay nailed his second 3-point bomb on an inbounds play and, a possession later, was fouled at the top of the arc by Fitch while attempting another 20-footer.

McKay calmly nailed three-straight foul shots as the lead had ballooned to 38-20 with 3:22 left in the third.

McKay added to the totals twice more before the quarter ended.

His nice left-handed move in the lane resulted in a score and then he grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Spangler missed free throw.

His put-back gave Woodlawn a 42-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals could have put more distance between themselves and Thompsonville but they, too, had issues at the foul line.

Coach Gamber's team was just 5-of-13 from the stripe in the fourth quarter and just 15-of-32 for the contest.

“It was not a free throw clinic by either team and they (Woodlawn) let us hang around a little longer because they didn't finish on their free throws,” said Coach Gordon.

Nevertheless, as it was throughout the game, the defense stayed strong.

Thompsonville got buckets late by Darge, his only points on a tip in, and two 3-pointers in the final minutes by senior Trey Bybee and Kessler.

McKay, who was the only “dead-eye” from the foul line for Woodlawn (11-16), hit four-straight while Martin and Tiemann scored on lay ups as they broke through the Thompsonville desperation full-court press.

The Tiemann score slammed the door shut on yet another postseason title for the school.

“Offensively Blake (McKay) had a big night but we had other guys step up. Spangler and Chase Hollenkamp stepped up and Jackson Tiemann guarded 'unreal' tonight. If he is going to guard like that, he makes us pretty good,” said Coach Gamber.

Woodlawn ended up 19-of-37 overall (51.3 percent) and 5-of-9 from the arc.

“This was a big-time test. This (outcome) should not take anything away from them (Thompsonville). They had an incredible year and this doesn't change that fact,” said Coach Gamber. “I am proud of our defense. And we need to keep that going. For us to win Tuesday, no matter who we play, we will have to guard. Maybe we can make some more shots, especially from the free throw line. I'm extremely proud of our kid's effort. It is about them. They are the ones that earn that. We are just going to try and keep pushing and keep this thing rolling. We just want to take it as far as we can.”

Despite also having issues at the foul line (15-of-32) the Cardinals advanced to the Gallatin County Sectional on Tuesday where they will face the host Hawks.

Gallatin County beat Hardin County 64-52 to win the Hardin County Regional title.

“I'm super proud of the kids. This game can't define our whole season. There is a lot of pride in there (our locker room) and we really wanted to be that first team to win a regional for Thompsonville. I just think they are sad that it is over. The seniors have had four good years. I could not be more proud of this group and what a great, fun season we had.”

Regional Championship
Thompsonville (40) – Kessler 4 1 5-9 16, Roberts 0 0 2-2 2, Furlow 2 1 1-3 8, Fitch 1 0 1-7 3, Darge 1 0 0-0 2, Jones 1 0 0-0 2, Bybee 2 1 0-0 7.
2FG-11, 3FG-3, FT-9-23, PF-27.

Woodlawn (58)
– Rynski 0 0 0-0 0, McKay 5 2 11-16, 27, Hollenkamp 0 1 0-0 3, Spangler 2 0 0-1 4, Tiemann 1 2 0-2 8, Hayden England 0 0 2-4 2, Martin 6 0 2-9 14.
2FG-14, 3FG-5, FT-15-32, PF-18.

Fouled Out
– Roberts, Dargers - Thompsonville.
Technical Fouls
– McKay - Woodlawn.
Four individuals advanced to the Country Financial "Three-Point Showdown on Friday night before the regional championship game. Taj McKinney and Kyle Sledge of Wayne City; Jackson Tiemann of Woodlawn and Ty Lane of Norris City-Omaha-Enfield.