Saturday, February 14, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Honestly: Illini hit the homestretch 8-4

IHSA pairings keep Railers close to home

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[February 14, 2009]  Well, this certainly beats trips to those northern Illinois paradises of Streator and Ottawa. On Friday, the IHSA released the tournament pairings for the 2009 3A state tournament that begins the first week of March, and the greatest distance the Railers would travel in hopes on bringing home some hardware would be on the final weekend with a visit to the state's Final Four in Peoria.

HardwareLincoln has been voted as the No. 1 seed at the Bloomington Regional. The Railers' first game will be Tuesday, March 3, and they will face off against the previous night's victor between 4th-seeded Normal U-High and the No. 5 seed, Rantoul. Should the Railers win that contest, they will advance to the regional championship on Friday, March 6, taking on the winner of Wednesday's contest pitting second-seeded Mahomet-Seymour against the homestanding No. 3 seed, Bloomington.

If the Railers advance with a regional title, they will travel to Decatur Eisenhower for the sectional round. They would play on Wednesday, March 11, against the winner of the Decatur MacArthur regional. Most likely to come away with that title would be No. 1 seed Decatur MacArthur or second-seeded Chatham Glenwood.

One more win and the Railers would be playing for a sectional title, and it wouldn't be easy. Lincoln would square off on Friday, March 13, against the winner from the matchup of the regional champions from Champaign and Springfield. It is very possible that game could have the No. 1 team in the state, Champaign Centennial, taking on Central State Eight conference rival Springfield Southeast.

Now we're really getting down the road. If the Railers can pull off a sectional championship, it's on to the supersectional to be played at Springfield's Prairie Capital Convention Center. Lincoln would face a team from down south in the form of the representative from the Salem Sectional. The St. Patrick's Day matchup could feature such teams as Centralia, Mount Vernon, Carbondale, Marion, or a team that has already beaten the Railers earlier in the year, Belleville Althoff.

A win at the PCCC would send the Railers to the Final Four in Class 3A and guarantee their first trophy since 1980. Their semifinal matchup on March 20 would feature a team from Chicago, possibly Chicago Marshall (remember them???), North Lawndale, Westchester St. Joe's (home of Isiah Thomas) or a number of other possibilities.

It is not an easy road, but nothing worth cherishing can be earned by taking the easy path. Some say the Lincoln Regional is pretty easy. Well, try telling that to the folks at Bloomington who would love to pay back some dues from the Big 12 days and knock off the Railers.

What about at the sectional? Depending on what happens on Feb. 27, it's possible the Railers may have to avoid being beaten by Southeast three times in one season. Maybe Centennial. They beat Lincoln early at the Thanksgiving tournament, a game the team will tell you they should have taken. This is a much different Railer team than then.

Will this be the year? The next four games are important, but no more than to the fact to get this team ready for March. When March arrives, will this team be remembered for going out and playing like a lamb or like a lion? The latter could result on coach Neil Alexander climbing a ladder and cutting down some nets.

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Schedule recap:

  • Tuesday, March 3
    Regional semifinal at Bloomington -- Lincoln vs. Normal U-High or Rantoul

  • Friday, March 6
    Regional final at Bloomington -- Lincoln vs. Mahomet-Seymour or Bloomington

  • Wednesday, March 11
    Sectional semifinal at Decatur -- Lincoln vs. Decatur regional winner

  • Friday, March 13
    Sectional final at Decatur -- Lincoln vs. Champaign vs. Springfield regional winners

  • Tuesday, March 17
    Supersectional at Springfield -- Lincoln vs. Salem sectional winner

  • Friday, March 20
    State semifinal at Peoria -- Lincoln vs. Hoffman Estates Supersectional winner

  • Saturday, March 21
    State final or third-place game at Peoria

[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]


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