Panthers rout Gibault to win Regional, their fourth title in as many years

The Panthers, their coaching staff, cheerleaders and fans from the student section pose with the Regional championship trophy. (Doug Daniels Photos)

By Doug Daniels /

February 24, 2018

  (Pinckneyville, Ill.) - For the fourth straight season, the Pinckneyville Panthers are boys basketball Regional champions. PCHS put it to Gibault in Friday's final, handing the Hawks a 73-33 beatdown on the floor of Thomas Gymnasium, sending the Panthers into next week's Sectional.
  "It's not to be taken for granted," said PCHS head coach Bob Waggoner. "I think some people sometimes feel that you just win Regionals, but it doesn't always happen. We went through a drought where we didn't win one for a few years. I neer take it for granted. I was explaining that to our kids today, this is the 70th anniversary of our state championship in '48, the records started at Pinckneyville in '38, and this is our 54th or 55th Regional right around in there. You look and you say what a tradition that you're a part of, that 50-some times out of 80 seasons you've been one of the top teams in the state, it's pretty special."
  "It says so much about our community and how important basketball is, and how the tradition has been built and continued. All credit goes to our parents, our school, and the community in general."

  The Panthers came out and punched Gibault in the mouth with a 13-0 run to start the game. Tanner Sphilmann's three put an exclamation point on the run with just over five minutes to go in the opening quarter. Towards the end of the period, Devin Kitchen sank a three-pointer, then Tyler Rice scored on the inside, and J.C. Moll drove in for a lay-up to beat the first quarter buzzer and make it 29-10 in favor of PCHS.
  "I thought we came out with just a tremendous amount of energy, really executed in how we wanted to guard and made things tough on them to be able to get the ball to their scorer," Waggoner said. "We put a lot of focus on him and making him have a hard time getting open looks. Really thought that our pressure would wear them down."
  The Panthers' defense then held Gibault without a single field goal in the second quarter, as the Hawks could only manage a pair of free throws in the period. Meanwhile, the rout continued on the other end of the floor, where Moll added a pair of threes in the quarter on his way to a 27-point night.
  "(Moll) did a lot of other things well, pushing in transition, finding the open man," Waggoner said. "He really played a good all-around ball game."

  The second half was merely a formality. Waggoner was able to get every player dressed into the game, and ten of them got in the scoring column, including three in double figures.
  "We really guarded well," said Waggoner. "We pressured intelligently, and the funnest thing for me was even when we subbed in, the next guy gave us energy, and even with our last group, they were playing the final four minutes as hard as they could. That's a culture you want to build within your program that all kids understand the expectations."
  Grant Jausel (14) and Kitchen (10) joined Moll in double figures. Spihlmann added 7 points and led the team in rebounding with 7. Dawson Yates (5 points), Tyler Rice (4), Kyle Luke (2), Dustin Bartnicki (2), Hunter Clark (1) and Grant Tanner (1) also scored for Pinckneyville. Moll had a team-high 4 steals, Yates led PCHS in assists with 5.

  Since Yates returned from missing time with a hip injury, the Panthers have won their three games by a combined total of 114 points, an average margin of victory of 38 points.
  "He just adds so much to us," Waggoner said of the sophomore. "Adds depth defending the ball, adds another ball handler, adds outside shooting. He really does so many things for us to improve as a team."
  The Panthers (28-3) now move on to the Class 2A Sectional at Wesclin High School in Trenton, where they'll meet a familiar foe, the Nashville Hornets, on Wednesday, February 28 at 7 p.m. In the other semifinal, played on Tuesday, Sectional host Wesclin takes on another SIRR Mississippi Division team, Anna-Jonesboro.
  "You're sitting here with 32 teams left, you're part of a special situation," Waggoner said. "As a player, and as a coach, you love to be competitive and get an opportunity to continue to play. My biggest thing I'm looking forward to is practice, because I get to be with these guys for a few more days. This is probably the funnest group I've had in a long, long time. They bring it every day. They have great, great, great energy, and synergy with each other."


© 2018-19 Doug Daniels Photography