Warriors boys’ basketball team goes to state championship
By Lenny Sementi
Parker James kickstarted Tuscola’s offense with an early bucket in the Elite 8 and then exploded in the second half as the Warriors punched their ticket for a trip to the State Farm Center. James finished off an ally-oop layup giving Tuscola its first and last lead of the game as coach Justin Bozarth’s bunch moved in front and stayed there, downing a good Mounds Meridian squad 74-53 at the SIU Carbondale super-sectional on March 6.
“When Parker gets a basket early, it seems to give him confidence that carries throughout the game,” stated Bozarth. “So, as a group, the coaches decided to run a play for him to score on our first possession and the guys executed it perfectly and Parker just kept getting better from that point forward.”
On the back of the opening play, the Warriors ran out to an 8-2 lead and extended it to 17-5 after one. The black and gold spread the wealth on the offensive end throughout the historic evening, and it was never more evident than in the second quarter as the Warriors put five players in all in the second 8 minutes of action en route to a 34-18 lead at the break. Kam Sweetnam hit a big three midway through the period, forcing Mounds to extend their defense, allowing Chris Boyd to open air down low. Sweetnam tossed in 14 points in the contest, including a pair of three’s while Boyd donated 11 points to the offensive cause. Jordan Quinn attacked the lane as well in the frame scoring 4 of his 12 points in the final two minutes of the first half.
Roderick Gatewood, one of the top 50 scorers in state history with over 2,200 points in his career, and his Meridian teammates pressed the issue early in the second half, trapping all over the floor and forcing turnovers on three straight possessions. The defensive adjustment came after a three by Sweetnam early in the third, helping Meridian cut the lead to nine 47-38, but that’s as close as they would get. A timeout by Bozarth settled the Warriors down, allowing them to find the open man, which happened to be James.
The super soph hit three buckets to end the period and then opened the final stanza with a three-ball pushing Tuscola’s advantage seventeen 55-38, all but ending the hopes of a comeback. James ended his night with a career-best 25-points, including a pair of big threes. Josiah Hortin tacked on 8 points in the game, 6 in the fourth and facilitated the offense to the tune of 5-assists. Tuscola shared the ball, notching assists on 18 of 31 made field goals.
Tuscola collected win number 30 on the season, moving to 30-6 overall, earning a spot in the final four and a trip to the State Farm Center. The Warriors are making the second trek to the state tournament and will look to bring home for the first time in school history.