Pinckneyville earns split of B.I.T. title, gets revenge on Rangers

Pinckneyville's players, cheerleaders and student section pose with the B.I.T. championship trophy. (Doug Daniels Photos and Video)

By Doug Daniels
1351sports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com

January 21, 2018

  (Benton, Ill.) - It's not exactly what they were looking for heading into the week, but the Panthers picked up a convincing 57-42 win over the Rangers in the finale of the Benton Invitational Tournament on Saturday night, earning Pinckneyville a split with Benton for the championship of the B.I.T. at 4-1.
  The victory also avenged one of PCHS's two losses on the season - Benton defeated the Panthers in the semifinals of the Gold Bracket at their own Duster Thomas Hoops Classic back in late December. Meridian, the only other team to defeat Pinckneyville this season, entered Saturday's schedule 3-0 at Benton but clearly were feeling the effects of Friday night's double-overtime win over the Panthers, and fell out of B.I.T. title contention with a pair of double-digit losses to the Rangers and Carlyle Indians.
  "I told our kids that I felt like the two games that we've lost, we didn't get beat, we lost them," said PCHS head coach Bob Waggoner. "The way we played at home when we lost to Benton, we had too many unforced turnovers, we didn't pay enough attention to the (scouting report). I thought (Friday night) against Meridian, we won, but we didn't make free throws."
  "I just challenged them and said you can have a great day today if you put all that behind you. We had great focus today against Hamilton County, we had great focus tonight against Benton. This is probably one of the best ball games we've played all year."
  The Rangers started strong against the Panthers, racing out to a 9-2 lead, but Pinckneyville righted the ship in a hurry. J.C. Moll hit a pull-up jumper with 2:47 to go in the quarter to kick-start a 17-2 run that lasted until the 6:25 mark of the second quarter. PCHS hit four three-pointers by four different players during that stretch - Moll, Grant Jausel, Devin Kitchen, and Dawson Yates, who was fouled on his triple and completed the rare four-point play at the line to put the Panthers up 19-11 with 6:40 remaining in the first half.

  Pinckneyville would not trail the rest of the way. Kitchen sank another three later in the second quarter, and then drove for a layup with 7 seconds left that sent the two teams into halftime with the Panthers up 28-21.
  PCHS stayed hot in the third quarter as Tanner Spihlmann and Yates hit threes, and it was all the Rangers could do to keep the lead under double digits. They didn't for much longer.
  Kitchen's third three of the game - PCHS's eighth - put the Panthers up 44-33 with 5:40 to play and Benton never got it under ten the rest of the ball game. Unlike the previous night against Meridian, Pinckneyville was strong at the free throw line in the closing minutes, hitting all eight of their shots at the line in the final three minutes.
  "We really paid attention to detail, held them to 42 points, not very many second-chance opportunities for them," Waggoner said. "On our end, I thought we executed well, got the ball where it needed to go, and made our free throws at the end."
  "I think the depth of our benched helped us. Today's game (with Hamilton County), I told our starters if you play about a half, you should be ready to go (later against Benton)."
  Moll led four Panthers in double figures with 13 points. Yates and Kitchen each added 12, and Spihlmann finished with 11. Gehrig Wynn had 17 points for Benton, and Parker Williams had 15, but everyone else together managed only 10.

  Earlier in the day, the Panthers throttled Hamilton County 63-19 to send the Foxes to their fourth loss of the tournament. Jausel led PCHS with 12 points, with Grant Tanner joining him in double figures with 10.
  The B.I.T. championship was the 11th in the last 14 years for Pinckneyville. During that stretch, the Panthers are 65-5 in Rich Herrin Gymnasium, earning it the nickname "Thomas Gym East."
  "You take it for granted," Waggoner said. "You just kind of show up to the B.I.T. and think it's going to be your trophy. You've got to give Benton credit, they've played really well here. They've had two really good teams, and another really good team this year, it was up for grabs. For me, it's a personal thing that I feel like we should be playing good basketball this time of year and put together five games, and we did that."
  Moll, Yates and Jausel were all named to the B.I.T.'s All-Tournament Team for their performance throughout the week.
  "Just great kids, J.C., Dawson and Grant," said Waggoner, "but I think Tanner Spihlmann could have easily been on the all-tournament team, he really played well. At the same time, our guys don't really care about the individual things, it's more about the team award. They're a lot happier holding that trophy than they are holding those all-tournament plaques."
  The Panthers (20-2) resume conference play on Friday at Sparta, then return home on Saturday for the Panther Showcase where they'll take on Althoff at 8:00 p.m.

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© 2018-19 Doug Daniels Photography