The Gillespie Miners faced a difficult dilemma Monday evening, Feb. 24, when they hosted Hillsboro to open regional play.
Guard Frankie Barrett, a 6’1” senior and team leader, wouldn’t even dress because of an injured ankle; Barrett is a good athlete who quarterbacked the football team and who had defended well while scoring 20 total points in the two teams’ earlier meetings - in the Carlinville Holiday Tournament, a 60-51 Topper win, and in their conference meeting on the Topper floor, a 52-50 Topper win on Jan. 10. Too, big man (6’4” Blake Zenner) had played sparingly over the last two weeks because of a health problem. He had rebounded and plugged the middle well defensively in the earlier meetings as well as scoring 11 in the first encounter. The Miners were seeded ninth on their own floor for the regionals.
None of that assured the eighth-seeded Toppers of a win, however. A time-tested coaching maxim says it’s hard to defeat any team three times in the same season. Too, the Gillespie gym, known to opponents as The Pit with the floor surrounded by eight foot walls so it resembles a hockey rink that features sounds that echo can be a hard place to shoot for visitors. Also, the Miners still had four year letter winner Anthony Kravanya, a 6’1” senior averaging 16 ppg. against Hillsboro in the 2019-2020 season.
When junior Brock Fredericks and Kravanya opened the scoring for the Miners, Topper fears seemed well founded. Drake Vogel canned a three, though, 100 seconds into the game to start Hillsboro’s offensive flow. Jace Tuetken on a breakaway provided a lead; after Kravanya scored again, Nic Ondrey answered, and the Toppers never trailed again.
When the Miners tied it at 9-9 (on a three by reserve senior Bobby Robbins), Dillon Smail swished a trey from out front.
Then Vogel (two free throws) and Tuetken countered two Zenner free throws to provide a 16-11 Hillsboro advantage; Brock Bellaver preserved it with a block of a Zenner shot as the quarter ended.
By halftime the lead was double-figures, 31-20. Gavin Matoush had an old-fashioned three to begin his personal string of seven good free throws of seven attempts (as a team, Hillsboro was a remarkable seventeen of seventeen for the game) among his seven second quarter points. Ondrey blocked a Kravanya shot; after that, the lead blossomed from 21-18 to 31-18 before a Frederichs’ basket ended the half.
An old Topper mistake began the second half when Zenner grabbed a weak-side offensive rebound for a putback, but that was his only field goal of the contest. Two Kravanya field goals would move the lights on the Miners’ half of the scoreboard over the next seven minutes; the Toppers’ 13 points weren’t overwhelming either, but they provided a comfortable 18 point margin with eight minutes to play.
Then the Miners seemed to realize their season was about to end. Their defense became more aggressive, and Kravanya found his rhythm from the field. Both of his treys helped cut the lead to 10 (46-36); he scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter before Matoush broke that string. Kravanya ended with 24.
That was as close as the teams would be score-wise, though, as Hillsboro was eight of eight from the line as Gillespie had to foul.
Besides the free throws, the Toppers individually enjoyed success as rebounders. Vogel and Ondrey each had ten caroms while Matoush had nine; the seven Toppers who played all had at least one rebound. In addition, Tuetken had five assists with Matoush collecting four (the team had 12). Tuetken had four of his team’s seven steals. Matoush’s team-high 19 points tied his personal best for the season as he also had 19 against Father McGivney.
The reward for winning? The Toppers played top regional seed (and number two ranked in 2A in the state) Breese Mater Dei Wednesday night in the Gillespie gym. Past history favored the Knights; the schools played often when Mater Dei was in the Mid-State Conference, and MD won 36 of the 39 meetings.
Unfortunately, the Knights made it 37 in 40 on Wednesday, beating the Toppers 80-48 to advance to the regional championship on Friday. That game story will be in the Monday, March 2, Journal-News.
February 25 at Gillespie
Class 2A Gillespie Regional
Hillsboro 16 15 13 16 60
Gillespie 11 9 6 20 46
Hillsboro (60) - Gavin Matoush 19, Drake Vogel 14, Jace Tuetken 14, Nic Ondrey 8, Dillon Smail 3, Dylan McCammack 2. Totals: 20-47 17-17 60.
Gillespie (46) - Anthony Kravanya 24, Brock Fredericks 11, Blake Zenner 4, Bobby Robbins 5, Tanner Whitfield 2.
Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 3 (Vogel 2, Smail 1); Gillespie 4 (Kravanya 2, Robbins 1, Fredericks 1).
Records: Hillsboro (11-21); Gillespie (9-22).
Class 2A Boys Basketball
Monday, February 24
Game 1: #8 Hillsboro 60, #9 Gillespie 46
Tuesday, February 25
Game 2 - #4 Breese Central 72, #11 Litchfield 28
Game 3 - #10 Carlinville 47, Staunton 33
Wednesday, February 26
Game 4 - #1 Breese Mater Dei 80, #8 Hillsboro 48
Game 5 - #4 Breese Central 48, #10 Carlinville 34
Friday, February 28
Game 6 - #1 Breese Mater Dei vs. #4 Breese Central