Well, Saturday's doubleheader sweep over Rochester and Highland
did allow the Railers to reach .500 at 11-11, but with Chatham
Glenwood sweeping the week to capture their first title over the
decade, Lincoln had to settle for second place, a showing that will
hopefully propel the Railers down the stretch. Also by going 4-1,
the Railers have never finished below .500 for the week at Chatham.
When the ball was tipped for game one, the Railers reached a
milestone in Lincoln history as they were beginning game No. 2,500
in the rich tradition of Railer basketball. In that game, the
Railers were hoping for a little payback against the Rockets.
Lincoln fell by two in Rochester in December, a game Lincoln could
never get on track. This time, the Rockets would take the court without
Seth McMinn, their leading scorer in the earlier contest with 17
With McMinn out with a foot injury, the Railers took advantage.
Down 4-2 early, the Railers ran off 10 in a row, led by Jordan Gesner's two
3s. Gesner, who struggled in the first two games,
scored eight of Lincoln's first 10 points. The run culminated on an
alley-oop dunk from Christian Van Hook, putting the Railers up 12-4.
The mid stages of the second quarter went back and forth as the
Railers continued to lead Rochester. After another Van Hook basket
put Lincoln up 17-9, the Rockets closed the gap heading into
halftime, scoring five in a row to cut the Railer lead to 17-14.
Coming out of intermission, the Rockets fought all the way back when
Matt Yeck drained a 3 to tie the game at 17.
The second big run of the game put the contest out of reach. Van
Hook scored a quick five to begin a 16-2 run to close the third
quarter up 33-19. During the run, the Railers hit half of their
eight 3s for the game, one each from Van Hook, Gavin Block, Will Podbelsek and Gesner. Entering the fourth, it seemed Rochester had
already started thinking about their game later in the evening.
The Rockets were able to outscore Lincoln 7-6 in the fourth, but
not even holding the Railers to one basket, another Gesner 3,
could get Rochester close enough. After being put in the bonus with
about two minutes left, the Railers connected on three of their only
four free throws of the afternoon to pull away with the 39-26 win.
Gesner led the way with 14 points, followed by nine from Van Hook.
Both seniors were the only representatives on the all-tournament
team for the Railers. Podbelsek added seven points, with Austin
Kirby and Block each hitting a 3. Max Cook, who continued his
maturing play, hit both his free throws, and Jake Olson added one.
So, with the conference portion of the week done, Lincoln put their
CS8 mark at 5-5. Next up for the Railers was Highland, a Bulldog
team that suffered a surprising loss in the early game to
One tendency the Railers have fallen into over the first two-thirds
of their season is the inability to stay cohesive and consistent,
especially on offense, when Van Hook is forced to the bench due to
foul trouble. Against a bigger and stronger Highland team, the
senior's presence would be needed to give Lincoln a chance.
After Van Hook scored the opening basket for the Railers, Lincoln
caught a break when Highland's big man in the middle, Ben Sparlin,
limped to the bench after suffering an ankle injury. For those thinking this
would give Lincoln a big advantage, the tables were quickly turned
at the 4:00 mark when Van Hook picked up his second foul, sending
him to the Lincoln bench for the remainder of the half. With each
team missing a huge presence in the middle, the squad that could
make up for the loss would put themselves in a position to gain
And unlike previous games this year, the Railers took off. Thanks to
the outside shooting of Podbelsek, who led the team in the contest
with 11 points, Lincoln was able to fight to a 10-0 lead at the end
of the first quarter.
As the second quarter started, another Podbelsek 3 and a jumper
from Block put Lincoln up 15-0. Sparlin returned to the lineup, and
he was quickly able to put Highland on the board at the 5:27 mark
with the Bulldogs' first basket. To answer Lincoln's run at the
start of the game, Highland ran off eight in a row to cut the Railer
lead to seven.
Van Hook started the Lincoln scoring in the second half, putting the
Railers up 17-8. After a Cook basket made the score 19-10, Highland
got as close as they had in a while with four straight. Just when
the Railers needed a big basket, it was the senior Gesner hitting
two 3s wrapped around a pair of free throws from Block to put
Lincoln up again by double figures at 27-16.
Highland showed they still had some fight by scoring five in a
row at the end of the third and to begin the fourth to bring the
game to 27-21. The seniors again came up big on the scoreboard, with
a basket from Van Hook and another 3 from Gesner giving Lincoln
an 11-point lead at 32-21.
Highland made their final push by outscoring Lincoln 9-2 to pull to
within four at 34-30. Since Highland had committed many fouls in the
half, the Railers were able to run down the clock while playing keep
away as Highland tried to foul, forcing Lincoln to the free-throw
line. Fortunately, Highland was not able to convert on the Railers'
struggle at the line in the latter stages of the game as Podbelsek
and Van Hook combined to go 2 of 5 from the line, leaving Highland
to have hope, but unable to score the rest of the way, preserving
the six-point win for Lincoln.
[to top of second column]
It was certainly good to see the Railers win, but more
important, to win a close game. It was the first game Lincoln had
won all season in which the margin was eight points or less. It was
also good to see the effort from Austin Kirby. The senior, who did
not score in the game, played a key role.
The Lincoln defense has
always put them in a position to struggle with weak-side rebounding.
In the early stages, it was Kirby seemingly getting every rebound on
the defensive end. There is never any shortage of intensity and
effort on the floor with Kirby out there. Loose ball on the floor?
Yeah, if he's out there, that floor burn sound you hear is probably
For the first time this season, Podbelsek led the way with 11
points, with balanced scoring behind him. Gesner scored nine on
three treys, with Cook scoring eight, and Block and Van Hook adding four each.
So, no title at this year's Meijer Classic, but after 10 years, Lincoln
has done pretty well for itself in Chatham, going 43-6 with three
different players capturing MVP honors in four years. The one thing
about the end of Chatham week, other than the waistlines of many
media members in need of lessening thanks to the hospitality room,
is the season is rapidly coming to a close.
In the regular season, the Railers have only five more weekends
of basketball, many of the games still in the conference. Toward
the end of the season, coach Alexander always mentions how he tells
the players how fast the season will go. This year is certainly no
Lincoln is back in action only once this weekend as they travel to
Springfield Southeast on Friday night for a 7:30 tip at Scheffler
Gymnasium. The Railers are hoping to steal one back after the
Spartans beat Lincoln by three on Jan. 7 at Roy S. Anderson
Gesner 5 0-0 14, Van Hook 4 0-0 9, Podbelsek 3 0-0 7, Kirby 1 0-0 3,
Block 1 0-0 3, Cook 0 2-2 2, Olson 0 1-2 1, Hays 0 0-0 0, Bowlby 0
0-0 0. Team 14 3-4 39. 3-point field goals 8 (Gesner 4, Podbelsek,
Van Hook, Kirby, Block).
Ferguson 8, Yeck 7, Grant 5, Houston 2, Ross 2, Fokum 2. Team 9 5-6
26. 3-point field goals 3 (Ferguson 2, Yeck).
Scoring by quarters:
Lincoln 7-10-16-6 39
Rochester 4-10- 5-7 26
Podbelsek 3 2-4 11, Gesner 3 0-0 9, Cook 4 0-0 8, Van Hook 2 0-1 4,
Block 1 2-2 4, Kirby 0 0-0 0, Olson 0 0-0 0, Hays 0 0-0 0, Bowlby 0
0-0 0. Team 13 4-7 36. 3-point field goals 6 (Podbelsek 3, Gesner
Sparlin 10, Welz 9, Hartleib 6, Melosi 3, McCloud 2. Team 10 7-8 30.
3-point field goals 3 (Melosi, Welz, Hartleib)
Scoring by quarters:
Lincoln 10-5-12- 9 36
Highland 0-8- 9-13 30
[By JEFF BENJAMIN; pictures by DANIEL HEMENWAY]
Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles