By Lenny Sementi
Tuscola’s boys’ basketball team opened the Central Illinois Conference Tournament as the eight seed out of eight teams a little over a week ago.
Coach Justin Bozarth’s squad shocked the league on the first day of competition eliminating one of the best teams in central Illinois and the leagues top seeded Rams of Shelbyville. And, it looked like the glass slipper was sliding on their foot a few days later as they boys in black carried a three-point lead into the final minute of their semi-final contest against Meridian. Midnight unfortunately struck too soon as Tuscola fell to the Hawks in a thriller 54-52 coming up just short of a shot at a spot in the finals.
Tuscola’s Tyler Meinhold got the ball rolling with a runner then Will Little hit a three followed by a basket by Cale Sementi as the Warriors ran off seven straight points to take a 7-2 lead just three minutes into the game. Meinhold followed with a long ball of his own, but a late trey from Meridian’s Garrett Meinshelter put the Hawks in front at the first break 16-14.
Meinhiold had 14 points in the game on 5 of 7 from the field, including a 4 for 5 effort from behind the arc. Meridian scored first in the second frame, but the Warriors stormed back scoring six straight to take the lead. Brayden VonLanken finished off an and one before Haden Cothron gave a boost off the bench with a three putting Tuscola on top 20-19 halfway through the quarter. The Hawks roared back with a seven-point run, but a late three by Meinhold and a layup by VonLanken pulled the Warriors to within three, 30-27, as the teams left for the locker room at the half.
Sementi opened the second half attacking the rim scoring on a drive, then hit both free throws following a foul that gave the Warriors an early lead in the third 31-30. Dalton Hoel drove the hoop as well later in the frame, and Meinhold hit a three as the two squads traded leads four times in the first seven minutes of the second half.
The back and forth affair continued in the fourth with Meinhold and VonLanken answering the Hawks offense with threes early in the frame, while Luke Sluder put back an offensive board knotting it a 46 with two minutes left on the clock. VonLanken found his groove scoring five straight for Tuscola putting them up by three with just over a minute left. Meridian cut it to one on the following possession before Meinshelter hit a runner with 19 seconds left putting the Hawks on top securing their spot in the finals as a last second three by VonLanken rimmed out.
The full story can be found in the Wednesday, Feb. 7 edition of The Tuscola Journal.