Now, there are probably 14 other teams across the state in Class
3A that would want to disagree with Lincoln coach Neil Alexander.
However, after watching his squad fall to the No. 1 team in the
state, Champaign Centennial, 49-45 in the sectional final on Friday
night, it was clear Coach Al thought this could have been the game that
would propel the Railers through the state tournament. Unfortunately,
it was where their season came to a sudden stop.
In a game that was hyped as much as this contest, it would be hard
to live up to the expectations. However, Lincoln and Centennial both
delivered as promised and, in the end, it is the Chargers moving on
to next week. It was a game of streaks, great shooting, tough
defense, great coaching, enthusiastic fans. It was a game you were
glad to be a part of, except of course, for the outcome.
Centennial (29-1) was able to jump out early, thanks to 3s from
James Kinney and Rayvonte Rice. For the Railers, Louie Schonauer and
Jordan Nelson countered from long
range as well to tie the game
at six apiece. Another 3 from Kinney put Centennial back up, but
the Lincoln defense clamped down and allowed Centennial no more for
the quarter. A layup for Nelson brought the Railers within one and,
as the quarter ticked down, a nice pass to Kyle Young resulted in
a layup at the buzzer and Lincoln's first lead of the night at 10-9
at the end of the first quarter.
Lincoln continued their 9-0 run into the second quarter. Kyle Young was
fouled after a nice drive and layup that resulted in an
old-fashioned three-point play, and another drive from Jordan Nelson
gave the Railers (29-5) their biggest lead of the night at 15-9.
From Centennial, it was too much James Kinney again. Kinney, heading
to the University of Ohio, hit another 3 from the wing to pull the
Chargers within three.
After another Centennial basket, Young scored again down low to
keep Lincoln up, but only by a 17-14 margin. Ben Brackney, who came
in averaging almost 16 points a game in the tournament, hit his
first basket to push the Lincoln lead to 19-15. Again, it was that
man Kinney who hit two more 3s before the end of the
quarter to put Centennial back up 23-20 at halftime.
The third quarter belonged to the Lincoln defense. James Kinney and
Rayvonte Rice combined for 20 of the 23 Charger points in the first
half. In the third quarter, they were held scoreless. The Railers
completely shut down the outside game of Centennial, allowing
baskets only from the big men down low, Jeff Johnson and Josh Piper.
The outstanding eight minutes of defense allowed the outside
shooting to come back for Lincoln. The Railers had two 3s in the
quarter, one from Louie Schonauer and another from Alex Anderson, to take
a 29-27 lead into the fourth quarter.
However, it was one stretch that may have decided this contest.
Centennial came out pressing the issue defensively at the beginning
of the fourth quarter. A steal from Rayvonte Rice that resulted in
a dunk and another on the next possession by James Kinney, ending
with a layup, quickly turned the fortunes and gave the lead back to
Centennial at 31-29.
Four more points made it a 10-0 run and a 35-29 lead
for the Chargers. Ben Brackney was able to break the streak from
behind the arc at the top of the key to cut the lead back to three.
Centennial, however, had another 7-0 run in them to extend the lead
to double digits for the first time at 42-32. The overall run of
17-3 put Lincoln in spot they eventually could not get out of.
Give credit to this team. Around two minutes to go and down 10 to
the No. 1 team certainly did not deter this squad from fighting
back. Jordan Nelson started the charge by connecting from long range,
and a pair of free throws from Nathaniel Smith, who was recovering
from being under the weather, had trimmed the deficit in half.
Another turnover from Centennial gave the Railers another shot
and, after getting fouled, Ben Brackney connected on two free throws,
and suddenly it was down to a one-possession game at 42-39, but that
was as close as the Railers would get the rest of the night. The
next four points from the Chargers got the lead back to seven, but Brackney brought it back to four with his second
3 of the night.
Give Centennial credit. They made their free throws down the end (8-for-9 in the fourth quarter) and after going back up 49-42, Louie Schonauer hit a
3 from the backcourt to affect the final score,
but not the outcome, and Lincoln had fallen 49-45.
There was no quit in this team. Yes, there were some plays that
could have been made and some calls that seemed to go against the
Railers. However, there were calls that certainly didn't go
Centennial's way, and you can't think coach Tim Lavin is pleased with
some of the unnecessary shots and chances taken by his team. It was
a game Lincoln could have won, but it just was not their night.
[to top of second column]
The Railers were led in scoring by Louie Schonauer with 12. Ben
Brackney and Jordan Nelson each had 10, while Kyle Young finished
with seven. Nathaniel Smith and Alex Anderson each had three.
So, what can you say about this team? It was a great season with a
disappointing end. I'm not going to start emoting about moral
victories and the such, but realize this: Lincoln lost only five
games this year by a total of 21 points.
The crowd again was outstanding. I think Lincoln's side of the gym
was packed about an hour before game time. I will completely agree
with coach Alexander who, in our postgame, said, "I truly believe we
have the best fans in the state. They make it easy to come out and
do what we do, and for that, I want to thank them."
No, Coach, thank you. Thanks for letting us tag along on another
great ride that is a season of Railer basketball. It's hard to
explain to people what Railer basketball is about. It's almost
something they have to experience for themselves.
I will disagree with Alexander on one thing. In the postgame,
he mentioned that he has "the best job in the world and sees no
reason why he would want to quit any time soon." As much as he
enjoys being around the players, other coaches, the parents and the
fans, I can't believe he sees this as a job, because it seems more
like a joy. He was disappointed tonight. You could see it on his
face. His disappointment was not for himself, but for the players
and the community.
Coach Alexander said, "I really wanted these kids to get their
reward for their hard work, to play on the big stage."
understand what you meant. Trust me when I say this: The big stage
is life, and you, along with their parents, have prepared these
young men to be players on that stage; and I think they, like others
before them who have worn the Railer red and green, will not be bit
players, but will take the lead as they go through life.
As many of you know, I lost my dad to colon cancer at the end of
December. I miss talking to him about the Railers and all their
successes. He was always asking how they were doing and where the
next road trip would take us. In light of that, I would like to
close with something he would frequently say when the Railers were
not on the winning side: "Well, Jeff, there's always got to be a
winner and there's got to be a loser." Dad, no offense, but that
didn't happen tonight. Centennial may have scored more points than
Lincoln, but there were no losers on the court. My dad appreciated
nothing more in this world than hard work, and I can honestly say
from the bottom of my heart, Dad, you would have been proud.
Railers, thanks for a great season!!
LINCOLN (45) --
Schonauer 4 0-0 12, Nelson 4 0-0 10, Brackney 3 2-2 10, Young 3 1-1
7, Anderson 1 0-0 3, Smith 0 3-4 3, Neece 0 0-0 0, Frick 0 0-0 0.
Team 15 6-7 45.
3-point FG: Team 9 (Schonauer 4, Nelson 2, Brackney 2,
Champaign Centennial (49) --
Kinney 17, Rice 12, Jo. Johnson 11, Je. Johnson 4, Piper 3,
End of first quarter -- LCHS 10, Champaign Centennial 9
Halftime -- Champaign Centennial 23, LCHS 20
End of third quarter -- LCHS 29, Champaign Centennial 27
Nathaniel Smith hit
seven shots in the 3-point shooting contest
but did not advance to the next round. Congratulations on advancing
as far as you did!
Next week, look for a season wrap-up with stats and stories and
other goodies that I've saved up throughout the season.
[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]