That's how meaningful this weekend's Central State Eight conference
showdowns are for the Lincoln Railers.
The make-or-break weekend
begins with Friday night's road trip to Springfield Sacred
Heart-Griffin to take on the Cyclones, who enter the game with a
record of 14-4 overall, including a 7-2 mark in conference play. The
Railers are 19-3 overall, and their 9-1 mark in conference play is
tied for the league's lead with Springfield Southeast, the team the
Railers host Saturday night.
Lincoln coach Neil Alexander didn't flinch when asked if this was
his team's biggest weekend of the season.
"It's kind of set up for that," said Alexander. "We've got a team
that's tied with us (Southeast) and another one in second place
(Sacred Heart-Griffin). It can't get much better than that."
The weekend's opponents have two unique sets of traits, each of
which poses problems for the Railers.
The physical play of big, strong Cyclones, with 6-foot-6 Dominic
Aiello and 6-foot-4 David Jacob, will force Lincoln to muscle up as
best they can. And SHG isn't solely dependent on scoring in the
post; guards Malik Turner, Gabe Green, Ben Sestak and Travis Vogel
are offensive threats as well.
"They're big, strong, good athletes. They are good basketball
players," said Alexander of the Cyclones. "They've just got a good
team. They are one of those teams that has a good inside game and a
good outside game. They can shoot it, they're quick, and they
"They play your basic Central State Eight style of basketball,
where it will be a very physical game."
If the game is close, the atmosphere could get intense, as Belz
Gymnasium -- thanks to a rowdy SHG student section -- can be among
the league's toughest places to play.
Alexander acknowledged the challenge but expects his team to rise
to the occasion.
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"I think I'm ready for it, and I really think the kids are
looking forward to it," said Alexander. "I think they're taking
that as a challenge. We'll just have to play through any of
"It could be a bad, tense situation by the time it's done, but
those are the type of situations you have to be ready to play in at
the end of the year."
On Saturday, Southeast will bring their combination of
athleticism and experience to Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium. The
Spartans are led by senior guards Herman Senor and Jagger Anderson.
Senor has been especially hot of late, leading the Springfield City
Tournament in scoring last week, including a 24-point effort against
the Cyclones in the championship game. Senor sank six 3-pointers in
The Railers defeated the Spartans earlier this season, winning
52-50 at Southeast after falling behind 10-0 to start the game.
"Coach (Lawrence) Thomas does a great job preparing them," said
Alexander of the Spartans. "I think his goals are very similar to
ours in that he wants to be playing very well at the end of the
year. I think they will continue to get better. It'll be a real
challenge for us, coming off of Friday night's game and going into
This time around, it'll be a home game in front of what could be
a packed house at LCHS.
It'll be a pressure-packed weekend. But, if the Railers can
emerge with two victories, a conference championship would be theirs
"That just makes it better," said Alexander. "I think our guys
perform better under pressure. They'll be prepared to play. I am
looking forward to it. I think the kids are ready. I think we're
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]