Not this time, Nashville: Panthers finally get past Hornets, advance to Sectional Final
Pinckneyville's bench celebrates during the first half of Wednesday's 55-33 win over Nashville in the semifinals of the Wesclin Sectional. (Doug Daniels Photos)
By Doug Daniels
1351sports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com
March 1, 2018
(Trenton, Ill.) - For the first time since 2006, the Pinckneyville Panthers have eliminated the Nashville Hornets from the IHSA boys basketball postseason state tournament. The Panthers hit seven three-pointers in the first half and held the Hornets to just 15 points in the second half while pulling away for a 55-33 victory in Wednesday night's Sectional semifinal at Wesclin High School in Trenton.
Nashville had eliminated Pinckneyville in the postseason the past two seasons, and four out of the last five, knocking them out in the Class 2A Sectional in 2016 and 2017, and in Regionals in 2013 and 2014. It was the first postseason win over the Hornets in Bob Waggoner's tenure as head coach at PCHS.
"It's been tough," Waggoner said. "We've been snake-bitten by them in the past. I've told people the difference is this group really isn't satisfied with just being here. They continue to practice well, work well, and they're still hungry. Whenever you practice well and you still have guys that want to continue to play and look towards some bigger goals, it makes my job real easy."
Nashville held Pinckneyville off the scoreboard for the first three-plus minutes of the game and led 6-0 when the barrage of three-pointers started to fall for the Panthers. Devin Kitchen and Dawson Yates hit deep balls on back-to-back possessions to tie the game, and Tanner Sphilmann hit one with 1:35 to go in the first quarter to give Pinckneyville their first lead at 9-8. The Hornets bounced back momentarily to go back ahead 12-9, but J.C. Moll beat the first quarter buzzer with another three, tying it up at a dozen apiece through eight minutes.
"I think the play at the end of the first quarter with Moll's three really changed the momentum," said Waggoner. "Our kids led into in the second quarter, and really our guys spread them a little bit more than what they like. I thought it was hard for their post kids guard on the perimeter and it gave us a lot of open looks."
A turnaround jumper from Tyler Rice put PCHS back on top early in the second quarter, and a baseline drive and bucket by Grant Jausel with 6:55 to go in the half made it 16-14 Panthers. Nashville's Bryson Bultman then hit a three with 5:40 on the clock to give the Hornets a one-point lead. It would be their final lead of the season.
The Panthers responded to Bultman's three with a huge 13-1 run to close out the first half. Jausel started it with a three, then swiped a steal and took it in for a layup with 3:14 remaining in the second quarter. After the Hornets called for time to stop the bleeding, Kitchen reopened the wound and poured salt in it with back-to-back triples to make it 27-17 in favor of Pinckneyville. A baseline jumper from Spihlmann with two seconds left in the half sent the Panthers to the break in control of the game up 29-18.
After bombing away from the outside during the first two quarters of action, Pinckneyville went at the rim in the second half, picking up right where they left off. The Hornets closed the gap to eight with a bucket 15 seconds into the third quarter, but Pinckneyville's pressure forced turnovers on four of the next five Hornet possessions and rattled off nine straight points in the process to pad their lead to 38-20 with 4:56 left in the period.
"We changed our game plan a little bit (in the second half)," Waggoner said. "We knew they were a little bit tired and in foul trouble, we thought we could attack the rim on them and get some easy looks, some easy kick-outs. So we tried to give them two different looks, one in the first half where we spread it for the threes, the second half we wanted to drive it more and be more aggressive."
Nashville got the lead back down to 15 heading to the fourth, but the Panthers wouldn't be denied, hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the final period (10-for-12 in the game) and securing their spot in the Sectional final on Friday night.
"I thought that our execution of our defensive game plan was as good as we can have," said Waggoner. "We limited their second opportunities, we kept their drivers in front of us, did an excellent job of switching and talking through it, making sure that they didn't get open lanes to the rim."
The Hornets sent just six players onto the floor before late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. Meanwhile, Pinckneyville's depth and conditioning again proved to be two of their strengths, as seven different Panthers scored at least 5 points.
"I think our depth is a big key," Waggoner said. "We can run different people at you. They do a great job of rotating in and playing. In the first half, we rotated in our two post kids, Kitchen and Spihlmann gave us a huge lift on the offensive end, and we didn't lose anything on the defensive end, and that's when we made our run. Our pressure really wore them down, we could tell they were pretty tired. When you only play five or six guys it's going to be a long night for you against our pressure and our depth, and I think our group is as conditioned as any team in the state."
Jausel led PCHS in scoring with 16 points, Kitchen had 9, Moll and Yates each had 7, Rice 6, and Spihilmann and Kyle Luke both finished with 5. Rice and Kitchen shared the team lead in rebounding with 4 apiece. Jausel, Moll and Yates each recorded 3 assists.
The Panthers (29-3) will meet Sectional host Wesclin (26-4) in Friday's 7 p.m. championship. The Warriors defeated Anna-Jonesboro 67-50 in Tuesday's semifinal.
(Photos by Doug Daniels / PinckneyvilleSports.com)