By Lenny Sementi
Justin Bozarth’s boys basketball team put in work this past week and even turned in some overtime in a three game stint that included some of the best in central Illinois including two state ranked teams. The state’s sixth ranked class 1A Warriors collected their 22nd win of the season with a dominating 61-37 win on Tuesday, February 8 versus a very good St Teresa squad.
Three nights later they traded baskets with the fourth ranked Hawks of Meridian on senior night before traveling to Central A&M for a date with a tenth ranked Windsor-Stewardson-Strasburg team in the National Trail/Central Illinois Conference shootout. It was a rough 24 hour stretch for Bozarth’s bunch falling to the Hawks in a fast paced two overtime thriller 81-73 before running out of steam 16 hours later collecting just their sixth loss of the season falling to the Hatchets of WSS 54-43 in a defensive slugfest.
The Quinn brothers Jalen and Jordan scored 12 of the first 14 points in the opening stanza of the St. T game. Jordan broke the ice with a short jumper on the Warriors first possession and Jalen brought the crowd to its feet ten seconds later taking a steal coast to coast for a rim-shaking dunk. From that point forward Tuscola never looked back, running out to a 16-6 lead at the first buzzer following a steal and a bucket by sophomore guard Josiah Hortin and a 35-16 lead at the break.
St T scored the first six points of the third before Preston Brown drained a jumper to end the rally. Jalen Quinn then shut the door scoring the next 13 points including three treys all but ending any hopes of a comeback. Jalen posted yet another double-double scoring a game-high 35 points while grabbing ten boards and dishing out four assists. Jordan was next in line adding nine points and six rebounds to his season totals. Brown was next in line with six points while Haven Hatfield accounted for five points.
“We played really well tonight and got off to a nice start,” commented the coach. “Proud of the kids for keeping the pedal to the metal and not letting St. T back into the game.”
Tuscola came out strong in the battle of the two top teams in the CIC standings running out to a 13-0 start holding the Hawks scoreless for the first five minutes of the contest leading to an 18-4 Warrior advantage after one period of play. Meridian fired back with a 10-2 run to close the gap but Tuscola answered, holding on to the lead 26-21 when the teams left for the locker rooms.
From that point on you could write a novel about the final two stanzas and both overtimes as the two heavyweights slugged it out. Meridian took the lead with 51 seconds to go in the third and entered the fourth on top 41-36. Jalen Quinn put the black and gold on his back in the fourth and the extra frames scoring all but nine of Tuscola’s final 37 points. Twice the senior hit three’s from just inside the mid court line once late in regulation and once in the first overtime to knot the game but the S on his chest wasn’t enough as the Hawks broke a 66-66 tie in the second overtime with a five-point run and held on for the victory.
The Loyola commit erupted for a career-best 45 points in the marathon while securing eight rebounds. Next in line was little brother Jordan who checked in with 12 points. Brown and Easton Cunningham followed with four points while Hortin and Colton Musgrave tallied three each.
“It was an incredible high school atmosphere where tonight, there were numerous lead changes throughout,” the coach said. “We just didn’t make enough stops down the stretch and allowed too many easy baskets. We are excited about where we are at but know to make a postseason run, we are going to have to beat numerous teams with talent like Meridian.”
Both Tuscola and Meridian suffered hangovers from the skirmish, each dropping their contests the following day at the shootout. Windsor built an early lead behind a patient offense in the first and second quarters and took advantage of tired legs after the half limiting Tuscola to just six points in the third period. Hatfield was late posting a five-point run in the waning minutes pulling the Warriors to within eight with just over a minute left in the game but it wasn’t enough.
“We were sluggish from the onset,” quipped Bozarth. “We never could get into a groove in either half. Our team defense struggled again throughout the afternoon as well.”
Tuscola faces another long week with four road games on the docket in the last week of the season. They open against a strong Neoga squad on Tuesday then travel west for a shot at redemption in the CIC tournament tilt versus Meridian on Wednesday before wrapping up the regular season in Sullivan on Friday. Number four is a home game for the in the first round of the Arcola Regional on Saturday. The Warriors are the top seed in the sub-sectional and if they beat the 16th seed Heritage Hawks will advance to Arcola for most likely a date with the Riders on Wednesday on February 23.