Saturday, January 26, 2013
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Railer streak ends as rally falls short

By Jeff Benjamin

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[January 26, 2013]  SPRINGFIELD -- Maybe the number seven wasn't quite as lucky as we had hoped.

Taking the floor for the first time as the seventh-ranked team in Class 3A, the Lincoln Railers saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end as host SHG fought off a late Railer rally to pull off the 44-41 upset at Jim Belz Gymnasium. The loss dropped Lincoln's record to 19-4, including 9-2 in Central State Eight play. The hope for a doubleheader sweep over the teams that played for the city championship last weekend has now turned into a desire for a split at best Saturday night against Southeast.

It was a game that, for much of the contest, the Cyclones simply outplayed the Railers. Lincoln seemed like they were a step slower on defense, while their offense just was not as crisp as we saw during Chatham week. It was a possibility the coaching staff saw coming.

"We did not have a good week of practice," a very frustrated coach Neil Alexander said after the game. "I can pretty much tell you what kind of game we're going to have based on how we practiced, and for the first three-plus quarters, that's exactly how we practiced."

Lincoln got off to a good start, thanks to junior Edward Bowlby. It was his marksmanship from the outside that got the Railers off to a 9-4 lead, all the points coming on 3-pointers. However, it was SHG turning the tables on Lincoln, using an 8-0 run to take the lead at 12-9 early in the second quarter. Railer Nation is used to watching Lincoln go on scoring runs, but Friday night that was the basis of the Cyclone plan. SHG had runs of 8-0 and 10-0 during the game, while the best Lincoln could run off was five in a row. That 5-0 spurt, a layup and then a 3-pointer from Tyler Horchem, put Lincoln back on top at 14-12.

After SHG (15-4, 8-2) tied the game at 14, a Max Cook layup gave the Railers a 16-14 advantage, the final time the scoreboard would tip in their favor. SHG used patient offense to find good shots from the outside while working the ball around to get the quick look in the lane. Late in the second quarter, SHG coach Blake Lucas used a timeout to get Ben Sestak into the game. Their long-range specialist made his coach look good when the 6-foot-4 sophomore connected from just past the top of the key as time ticked away before the half to send the Cyclones into the locker room up 22-16. The six-point deficit was the largest of the season so far for Lincoln.

SHG continued their momentum with the first score of the second half to extend the lead to eight. A Gavin Block layup, his first points of the night, brought the lead back down to six at 24-18. The biggest play of the night came midway through the third quarter. At the 3:59 mark, SHG's Mailk Turner was whistled for a technical foul after some excessive contact with Bowlby. The turnover cost SHG a chance to stretch their lead and put Block at the line for the free throws before the Railers would take possession of the ball. Uncharacteristically, the sophomore missed both free throws, keeping the deficit at eight. While Lincoln did get a bucket from Cook, you could almost feel a little wind go out of the Red and Green sails by not capitalizing on the opportunity.

"That was the turning point of the night," Alexander said. "You have a chance to cut the lead in half and don't get it. I think we scored on the possession anyway, but it just didn't go the way we wanted it."

The epitome of the evening's "it's going to be one of those nights," was Turner missing a free throw near the end of the third quarter. As the Railers fought for the rebound, it fell to Sestak on the near side, who rose up and drained a backbreaking 3 as time expired, and the SHG lead grew back to nine at 29-20 going to the fourth.

Now, the SHG fans may have started thinking this was in the bag, but you never count out a Lincoln Railer team. Win or lose, they will go out fighting, and on Friday night, if you would have blinked, you would have missed the Railers getting back in it. When Block scored at the 6:57 mark, it brought the SHG lead back to single digits at 31-22. Over the next three-plus minutes of game time, the Railers would close to within two, but free throws again proved to be an enemy of the Railers.

Quicker than a hiccup, 3s from Bowlby and Will Podbelsek over a 45-second span made it a five-point game at 34-29. After another SHG score, Bowlby sank two free throws, while Block scored on a big offensive rebound to shrink the deficit to two at 35-33. SHG certainly did their part in the fourth-quarter drama, hitting just 7 of 15 free throws (10 of 19 for the game). At the 3:22 mark, Block went back to the line, shooting one-and-bonus for a chance to tie the game. After missing the front end, he picked up his fourth foul just nine seconds later. Coach Alexander really had no choice but to leave him in for the duration.

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After SHG could convert only one free throw, the Railers returned the favor twice when Podbelsek and Bowlby split pairs of free throws, leaving the score at 38-35. For the game, Lincoln could make only half of their 10 attempts from the line. A conventional three-point play was answered by a layup from Cook. With SHG up 43-37, the Railers mounted their final charge. Horchem came around a screen on the dribble and connected from the top of the key. Unfortunately, the junior's foot was clearly on the line, giving him only two for the shot. SHG again made only one free throw, while Block countered with a strong move down the lane and a layup.

Down 44-41, the Railers fouled Sestak, who had made three free throws in the first half. Sestak missed the first one and then the second to give the Railers one final chance. With 9.5 seconds to go, the Railers worked the ball around to Podbelsek. The senior, who has hit one big shot after another this season, took a look, cleared with a dribble to the left and fired the potential game-tying 3. This time, the ball ricocheted off the rim and out of bounds to SHG with only one second to go. On this night, there would be no comeback.

In the end, it may have been SHG's toughness that won out.

"We were out there looking for calls and not playing," Alexander said. "You can't play basketball like that and expect to win."

The offense finally came alive in the fourth (20 points in the first three quarters, 21 in the fourth alone), but it was a little too late. Bowlby led the way with 15 points, while Block added nine. Horchem added six, while the tough defense played by SHG held Lincoln's leading scorer Cook to six points. Podbelsek finished with four.

The night got off to a good start with a 45-31 victory for the younger Railers.

This weekend now turns into "out of the frying pan, into the fire" as Southeast pays a visit to Lincoln on Saturday in a game coach Alexander has said "will most likely decide the conference race, especially if Southeast wins." The game will tip at 6:30 p.m., with the sophomore game set for 5.

Is there something to be learned from Friday night's loss? I'm sure there is, and it may need to be a quick lesson because Southeast will come in looking for revenge for an earlier loss to Lincoln at home. This may be the turning-point game in the season. Can Lincoln come back from a tough road loss to right the ship and knock off Southeast again, or will the weekend be a complete downer by struggling against the Spartans? It should be high drama at Roy S. Anderson tonight. Make sure you are there.



Bowlby 4 3-4 15, Block 4 1-4 9, Horchem 3 0-0 7, Cook 3 0-0 6, Podbelsek 1 1-2 4, Olden 0 0-0 0. Team 15 5-10 41. 3-point field goals 6 (Bowlby 4, Podbelsek, Horchem).

SHG (44)

Sestak 12, Lowis 9, Jacob 8, Turner 7, Green 4, Vogel 4. Team 15 10-19 44. 3-point field goals 4 (Sestak 3, Green).

Scoring by quarters:

LCHS 9-7-4-21 41
SHG 9-13-7-15 44


Railer-related information:

Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles

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