Panthers claim first Sectional title since 2008; defeat Wesclin 56-37
The Panthers' bench cheers on a three-pointer during the first half of Friday's victory. (Doug Daniels Photos)
By Doug Daniels
1351sports.com / pinckneyvillesports.com
March 3, 2018
(Trenton, Ill.) - The Panthers are back in the boys basketball Super-Sectional for the first time since 2008 after putting away Wesclin on their home floor in Trenton 56-37 on Friday night to claim a Sectional championship.
Pinckneyville held the Warriors, one of the best three-point shooting teams in the area, without a single trey in the ball game and never trailed, pulling away with a 10-0 run in the middle of the third quarter.
"We just didn't want them to get open threes," said PCHS head coach Bob Waggoner. "The key to their team is their set-shoot threes, we wanted to pressure them and limit their ball-handling. We wanted to make sure that they had to dribble the ball, and defensively they had to guard and space. We really did a great job of wearing them down on both ends."
Much like they did against their Sectional semifinal opponent, Nashville, the Panthers had a considerable advantage in the depth department. That came in handy during the first half when seniors J.C. Moll, Grant Jausel and Kyle Luke all picked up two fouls and had to spend some time on the bench. Wesclin, meanwhile, hesitated to go any further into their bench than they absolutely had to.
"(Our depth was) very important," said Moll. "I think they really only wanted to go five guys deep, so we wanted them to get their sixth and seventh guy out because we knew we could pressure them. They don't like playing those guys so we knew we could speed them up and try to get them in foul trouble, try to force turnovers."
The Panthers led 13-10 after one quarter and threatened to pull away early in the second after a three-point play by Dawson Yates, and a three-pointer by Devin Kitchen, but that's then the foul trouble started to catch up with them. Wesclin was able to narrow the gap down to five at the break, 22-17.
After sitting the majority of the first half, Jausel returned well-rested in the second half, and made an immediate impact with a three-point play just 24 seconds into the third quarter that started to swing the momentum back in Pinckneyville's favor.
"We were up, if we'd have been down, if it'd have been close, we'd have played him with two (fouls)," Waggoner said. "It was a calculated risk that paid off."
With PCHS up 29-21, it was Yates' turn to light a spark for the Panthers. He hit one of two free throws with 5:05 to go in the third, then drove for a bucket with 4:10 on the clock, then sank a three with just over three minutes to go in the period for the first six points of Pinckneyville's crucial 10-0 run.
"He's a great player, he's really good," Waggoner said of Yates. "He just comes to play. He's probably our most consistent player, and night in, night out, he's a great defender."
Moll scored after a fancy crossover move shed his defender with 2:15 left in the period to give the Panthers a 39-21 advantage and the Warriors got no closer than 11 down the rest of the night. Pinckneyville made 6-of-7 free throws as a team in the fourth quarter to prevent any hopes of a Wesclin comeback.
After the victory, some of the PCHS seniors reflected on the historic night, as well as finally being able to get past the Nashville Hornets, whom they eliminated earlier in the week.
"The last two years we lost to Nashville, both basically on buzzer-beaters, so it felt good to get over that hump," said Luke. "There's something different about this team, everyone just wants to get after it. We just get after it a little bit every night. To win this, for the first time since '08, it's an outstanding accomplishment for Pinckneyville."
Moll echoed those sentiments, saying "After the last two years, getting beat in the first round (of Sectionals), we've been looking back and using it as motivation. We wanted to get past Nashville, that was the first hump. We celebrated the next day and then we knew we had to focus for this game and it really paid off."
The Panthers have eight seniors on their roster, but it was Yates, a sophomore, who led them in scoring in their biggest win of the season thus far with 18 points. Yates is still working his way back to full strength after suffering a hip injury back on February 2, but looked as sharp as ever on Friday, making 7-of-11 shots from the field.
"It was a huge letdown when I got hurt," Yates said. "I went through therapy, still doing therapy now. I haven't had to score the ball much, the team's been doing pretty good. I made sure to get them their open shots, try to ease my way back in and step up when we needed to."
Jausel was also in double figures with 16 points, Moll was a point shy with 9. Luke and Tyler Rice each finished with 4 points, Kitchen 3, and Dustin Bartnicki had 2. Hunter Clark, Kelton Linze, Kyle Kreger, Grant Tanner, Noah Carter, Lucas Teel, Tanner Spihlmann and Derek Rohlfing also got into the game for Pinckneyville.
"It was all a team effort," said Waggoner, who claimed his second Sectional championship as head coach of the Panthers. "From our scout team, who did a great job the last two days getting us prepared, to our coaches, to our kids. It's a group effort."
"(Winning a Sectional) means a lot, it's been a while. We've been close. We've been here a few times, haven't been able to take that next step. Playing on their floor, we were concerned, but this team is hungry and I think they've got a lot more left in them. I think it just shows our kids determination."
The win was the 30th of the season for the Panthers, who have suffered just three defeats, none of them to a Class 2A team. Up next is a trip to the SIU Arena in Carbondale to take on Mt. Carmel in Tuesday's Super-Sectional on the college hoops floor.
"It's still the same," said Jausel. "(The rim) is still ten feet. The three pointer doesn't change. The free throw is still 15 feet."
The Golden Aces (19-11) are coming off Sectional victories over Eldorado (29-3) and Teutopolis (22-9). Tuesday's game is set to tip off at 7:30 p.m. The winner advances to the IHSA State Finals in Peoria on March 9 and 10.
(Photos by Doug Daniels / PinckneyvilleSports.com)