The win improves the overall record for the Railers to 19-3, but
there is no time to rest on the accolades as the toughest stretch of
the season continues this weekend with games against Sacred
Heart-Griffin and Southeast, the combatants in this year's
Springfield City Tournament finale.
Every game of the Chatham
tournament seemed to produce a different hero, and in the biggest
game of the tournament, it was the senior, Will Podbelsek, leading
the charge with a career-high 19 points.
"I grabbed him after the game," coach Neil Alexander said, "and
told him that he had just played one of the best games of his
career. He came up big for us tonight, but there's one thing about
Will -- you never have to worry about the effort he'll bring. He has
that kind of heart."
Two other Railers, Max Cook and Tyler Horchem, joined Podbelsek
in double figures with 11 and 10 points respectively. It did take a
while for the offense to get going, but as we've seen throughout
this season, when it's going good and going right, it's almost
impossible to stop.
Things did not get off to the start Lincoln had hoped for in
trying to pay back the Crimsons for their lone CS8 loss, an overtime
defeat at Roy S. Anderson earlier in the season. After Payton Dugan
hit a 3 and Josh Peak scored on a conventional three-point play, the
Railers found themselves down early at 6-0. Then Cook put the
Railers on the board with a 3, and Podbelsek tied the game with the
first of his five 3-pointers on the night. After a free throw from
Edward Bowlby and Jacksonville's Peak going to the bench with his
second foul early in the first, Podbelsek continued the barrage with
another 3 and a shot fake from behind the arc, dribble-in and
pull-up jumper to extend the lead to 12-6.
With Bowlby on the bench with foul trouble, Lincoln got a big
basket from Austin Krusz as his high arching shot just outside the
lane put the Railers up 14-7. In what would be a game of runs, the
Crimsons ran off five in a row, but Podbelsek delivered another big
3 to stop the run and push the lead back to five at 17-12. An area
the Railers were looking for in order to succeed on the offensive
end depended on the shooters Lincoln could put in the corners.
Success would force the big guys from Jacksonville to cover those
corners, with hopes of either tiring them out or opening up the
middle for some easy looks.
Being mindful of the 3-point shooting of Horchem caused the
Crimsons to forget about his ability to go to the basket. With the
left side overloaded, Horchem cut to the basket from the right
corner, took the pass and laid it in, starting an 8-0 run. Gavin
Block, the tournament MVP, put in his two, or should I say three,
cents by connecting from long range, as did Horchem, as the Railer
lead grew to 25-14. Lincoln was able to take a 28-16 lead into the
The third quarter was more of the same for Lincoln as Podbelsek
again struck twice from long range as the advantage grew to 34-18. A
basket from Block preceded a 3 from Horchem as the lead grew past 20
The last notable Railer spurt was a 6-0 run led by Bowlby's
reverse layup on a backdoor, steal and layup from Podbelsek, and a
layup by Cook that was swatted away in frustration by Jacksonville,
resulting in a goaltending call. Not sure many saw this one coming
as the scoreboard read 45-23 going into the fourth quarter.
Cook continued the Railer dominance with four to start the
quarter as Lincoln's lead grew to its largest at 49-23. Credit must
be given to Jacksonville for not just giving in. The Crimsons made a
final push to get into the game by running off 12 of their own to
cut the lead to 49-35. A timeout from Alexander was needed to settle
"There was the one stretch where we started gambling on defense,"
Alexander explained. "We just needed to play defense like we had
Cook's 3 from earlier in the quarter was the only field goal for
the Railers in the fourth as they stepped to the line, going 7 of 9
to finish out the win 55-36.
"Our kids are playing real well right now, and we've got a goal:
We are looking to get that number one seed in the regional. That is
important for this team," Alexander said.
Along with Podbelsek's 19 and Cook and Horchem combining for 21
points, Block scored nine, Bowlby added three, with Krusz scoring
two and Adam Conrady adding a free throw at the end of the first
The Railers placed three on the all-tournament team. Along with
the MVP Block, Cook and Bowlby were part of the 10-man squad.
Depending on the night, there could have been more, but Alexander
said they were lucky to get three.
"When you're as balanced a team as we are, we're lucky we got the
three we did," the coach said. "Sometimes one will cancel out the
other. Take a look at all-conference right now. Who from this team
(Lincoln) would or could you pick?"
See the end of the story for extra tournament notes.
Now, the Railers were able to play for the outright title
Saturday night by virtue of getting by Rochester on Saturday
morning. There were some, yours truly included, who thought the
possibility existed the Railers should get to an early lead, get
some of the starters some rest, so they could be ready for the game
later that evening against Jacksonville. Not everyone thought that,
especially those wearing the Rochester uniform.
Lincoln needed a 15-0 run from late in the third into the fourth
to break open what had been just a four-point game to extinguish the
Rockets 71-52. If not for the record-tying performance of Max Cook,
this one could have been one of the bigger upsets at the Winter
Classic. The Lincoln junior tied the tournament record for 3s made
in a game -- seven, all in the first half -- as his 21 points helped
Lincoln to a 43-34 halftime lead. Yes, that was halftime. A team
that been allowing about 30 points a game in the month of January
saw that go by the board in the first half.
Rochester was able to stay in the game with hot shooting,
especially from 3-point range, where they hit for more than 50
percent in the first half.
"We told them not to let them stand and shoot because they can
hit shots," Alexander said. "So, what did we do? We stood there and
let them shoot, and we see what the result was. I was very
disappointed in our defense in this one."
[to top of second column]
The Rockets' first nine points came off 3s, while Lincoln built a
13-9 lead thanks to the long ball as well. The first two of Cook's
3s along with Horchem hitting put the Railers up by four. But it was
a short-lived lead as the Rockets got the ball inside to Matt Swaine,
someone the Railers did not have an answer for as he scored 20
points. Down 14-13, the Railers went on a run to take their first
double-digit lead of the day at 24-14. The run was highlighted by
Bowlby, who scored the last two baskets to push the Lincoln lead to
The Rockets refused to go away, and another 3 cut the game back
to four at 29-25 midway through the second quarter. Cue Mr. Cook.
The junior found a spot on the floor that he liked and he just kept
going there. Cook scored 12 in a row, all on 3s, as the Lincoln lead
expanded to 43-28. Cook's seven 3s tied the record held -- no
surprise to anyone -- by Matt Schick and Jordan Nelson.
But the Railers did not close out the half well defensively as
the Rockets closed with six in a row to put the halftime score at
As he has been very good at doing, Horchem hit two 3s in a row as
Lincoln went back up 49-35. Horchem finished with 15, all on 3s.
Again, it was too much Swaine for Rochester as he scored eight in
the quarter and the Rockets closed to within 49-45. After a pair of
free throws from Block, the Rockets climbed back to within four at
It took a while, but Lincoln finally woke up and started the 15-0
run that finally put the Rockets away. Bowlby started the run with a
basket and two free throws sandwiched around another 3 from Horchem.
Podbelsek also connected for his only 3 of the game, with baskets
from Block and Bowlby finally allowing Railer Nation to breathe a
sigh of relief.
The record shows it to be a 19-point win, but it was not a
19-point game. Against a different team, this one could have ended
up on the wrong side of the win-loss column, but every successful
season has those games that could have been losses. It took about
three quarters for things to start clicking. Certainly a teaching
moment: Take anyone lightly and they can hang a loss on you. Do that
during state tournament play and you go home much earlier than you
Cook, Bowlby and Horchem (21, 16 and 15) combined for 52 of
Lincoln's 71 points. Podbelsek added seven, with Block scoring six,
Adam Conrady five, and Joey Olden added a free throw.
Now things get real interesting as this week finds both SHG and
Southeast on the schedule. The Railers will look to stay near the
top of the CS8 with Friday's game at SHG and then back home against
Southeast. The Spartans won the City Tournament on Saturday and will
come to Lincoln looking for revenge after the Railers knocked them
off in Springfield earlier in the season, while Lincoln has yet to
see a much-improved SHG squad.
By the way, check your calendars. Do you realize there are only
eight regular-season games left? Every year, coach Alexander
stresses how fast the season goes, and this one is no different.
Let's hope this season lasts a lot longer than anyone thought it
would back in November.
MCook 7 0-0 21, Bowlby 7 2-2 16, Horchem 5 0-0 15, Podbelsek 2
2-2 7, Block 2 2-2 6, Conrady 2 1-1 5, Olden 0 1-2 1, Krusz 0 0-0 0,
Perry 0 0-0 0, WCook 0 0-0 0, Ebelherr 0 0-0 0, Dunovsky 0 0-0 0.
Team 25 8-9 71. 3-point field goals 13 (Cook 7, Horchem 5, Podbelsek).
Swaine 20, Neal 9, Fisher 9, Zeigler 8, Dowis 3, Ferguson 3. Team
19 5-12 52. 3-point field goals 9 (Fisher 3, Neal 2, Zeigler 2,
Scoring by quarters:
LINCOLN 20-23-13-15 71
Rochester 14-20-13-5 52
Podbelsek 7 0-0 19, Cook 3 3-4 11, Horchem 3 2-2 10, Block 2 4-5
9, Bowlby 1 1-2 3, Krusz 1 0-0 2, Conrady 0 1-2 1, Olden 0 0-0 0.
Team 17 11-15 55. 3-point field goals 10 (Podbelsek 5, Cook 2,
Horchem 2, Block).
Keene 10, Armstrong 7, Barlow 6, Hance 6, Peak 6, Dugan 1. Team
12 8-12 36. 3-point field goals 4 (Barlow 2, Keene 2).
Scoring by quarters:
LINCOLN 14-14-17-10 55
Jacksonville 9-7-7-13 36
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]
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