Saturday, March 01, 2014
Sports News

“Well, I sure didn’t see that coming. I’m willing to bet,
neither did Springfield Lanphier."
By Jeff Benjamin

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[March 01, 2014]  LINCOLN —  After Friday night’s battle between the top two teams in the state in Class 3A, a number of fans, media, and coaches were heard echoing the same sentiment of “well, I sure didn’t see that coming.”

I’m willing to bet, neither did Springfield Lanphier.

In a packed-to-the-rafters Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium, the number two Lincoln Railers, dominating in almost every facet of the game, handed the top-ranked Springfield Lanphier Lions their first loss of the season, an impressive 57-34 win. The victory not only kept the Lions from finishing off an unbeaten regular season, it allowed the Railers to share the conference championship with the Lions. On Senior Night, it was a junior, Gavin Block, that stole the show as he dropped a career best 30 points on Lanphier, besting his previous high of 28, a mark he set in the first matchup between the teams in Springfield.

A stifling Railer defense, seemingly fueled by the energy in the gym, forced Lanphier into 24 turnovers which Lincoln converted into 28 points. Except for brief periods in the second and third quarters, Lanphier could never find any rhythm or flow to their offense, all thanks to the Lincoln defense. “Our guys played an outstanding game tonight,” a very pleased Coach Neil Alexander said after the game. “That’s a great basketball team over there in Lanphier and if we played ten times we may only win one, but tonight was our night.”

From the outset, the buzz in the building was off the charts. Even though it took a few minutes for either team to score, Railer Nation got the first shot of the night in after Block put Lincoln on the board. Max Cook stretched the lead to 3-0 with a free throw. In a game that was called very closely by the officials, both teams almost reaching the bonus in the first quarter, the Railers suffered the first casualty of those calls when Edward Bowlby had to head to the bench with two fouls at the 3:47 mark. Lanphier quickly took advantage when their man in the middle Scottie Wallace scored on a shot off the glass to make it 3-2.

Block would score again to start a run for the Railers (28-2, 15-1) that would eventually stretch out to a 26-6 outburst. Block continued his hot start with the night’s first three, made possible after Payton Ebelherr battled for an offensive rebound. Ebelherr then was rewarded on a drive to the basket and layup, while Joey Olden turned a steal into points and the Lincoln lead was up to 12-2. The ten point advantage may not seem like much, but in all but two games this season, the Railers have enjoyed at least a double digit lead at some point of the contest. The only two they didn’t; the losses to Lanphier and Champaign Central.

Lanphier’s Larry Austin, Jr. made his first mark of the night when a Lincoln turnover turned into a two hand jam for the Tennesse-bound senior. The Railers did not allow this dunk to swing the momentum the way Austin’s fourth quarter dunk shifted the game in mid-January. Block scored on a spin move reverse layup while Olden ended the quarter with a three from the left side and those cheering for the Railers rose to their feet to applaud Lincoln’s 17-4 lead after one.

A great deal of credit should go to the Lincoln bench for their early performance. With Bowlby, Max Cook, and Adam Conrady all picking up two early fouls, the bench players, including Austin Krusz, Will Cook, Ebelherr, and Conrady helped to not only maintain the lead but help in making it grow.

Olden’s three-point show continued as he hit Lincoln’s first two shots from behind the three-point line to start the second quarter and extend the margin to 25-6. A jumper and lay-in from Will Cook gave the Railers the lead at 27-8, while Block ended the run with a pair of free throws. The charity stripe was a place Block would become familiar with during the game as he hit 15 of 18 from the line.

The Lions (25-1, 15-1) finally started showing some life and went on a 9-0 run, led by the offensive rebounding of Wallace, who finished with 12 rebounds including 7 on the offensive glass. When sophomore Xaiver Bishop hit his only three of the night, the Lincoln lead had been cut to 29-17. Lincoln answered back with a 7-2 spurt of their own with Block hitting four of six free throws, while Max Cook delivered a three pointer to help send the Railers into the locker room with a 36-21 lead.

Even though Lincoln had made a few mistakes, it sure felt as though they had played as well as they have all season in getting the 15 point lead, holding the Lions to just 32 percent from the floor while connecting on 55 percent (12 of 22). But there was still 16 minutes left and the number one team in the state is going to be looking to make a statement as to why they are in the top spot.

After Lanphier scored to open the third quarter to cut the margin to 13, the Railers knew it would not take much in the way of momentum to put Lanphier back in the game. The Railers went away from what had been their formula of success over the past few games and started driving to the basket. For the last six games, Lincoln had made 10 or more three pointers and with five already in the first half, it seemed a sure thing that they would reach at least ten. OK, Railer fans, if I told you before the game that Lincoln did not make a three pointer in the second half, how would you have felt about the outcome?

[to top of second column]

Lincoln took only three from long range in the second half, instead using ball movement, great cuts, and great interior passing to make their mark going to the hole. After a pair of free throws from Block, the junior scored two baskets in a row, the second coming on a feed from Bowlby who had the ball underneath but found Block cutting to the basket for the lay-in. Bowlby ended the run with a layup of his own to put the Railers up 21 at 44-23. After a three from Lanphier, the unending noise in Roy S. Anderson suddenly stopped as Block was fouled hard on a drive and did not immediately get off the court. Getting up with a little hitch in his giddyup, Block walked off the pain and proceeded to hit a pair of free throws to put Lincoln on top 46-26.

Lanphier’s final gasp came at the start of the fourth quarter as they turned up the pressure as high as it had been all night. Austin scored during a 6-0 run to shave the lead to 14 at 46-32. Austin finished with only eight points before fouling out, the fifth foul coming on a double technical between him and Max Cook. Block’s free throws stopped the run and, after a Lincoln timeout, Olden scored a layup on a back door play that has worked for the Railers for a long time. After Olden’s basket, Block scored again, this time Lincoln’s final field goal of the night, as Block and Max Cook finished out the scoring from the free throw line to give Lincoln the win 57-34. Even with the way Lincoln has been playing, the win is not a surprise, the margin, however, no one saw coming.

“You know I’m always looking for perfection and there were a couple of areas that need some work,” Alexander said after the game. “I was concerned about the dribble drive and again, the offensive rebounding, but our defense is going to give up rebounds. We have things we can work on.”

Block’s 30 almost bested Lanphier by himself. He was joined in double figures by Olden with 13. Max Cook finished with six, while his brother Will added four. Bowlby and Ebelherr each chipped in with two.

So, when the newest poll comes out on Tuesday, does this mean we will be cheering on the #1 team in the state? Well, common logic tells you the answer is yes. However, as highly as the Railers have been ranked all season, they have yet to receive a first place vote in the polls. It is possible a team below them may pick up some top votes and leap frog them. However, if anyone that casts a vote was in the gym tonight, there is no question which team deserves that top spot. They’ve earned it and Tuesday night, they should get the chance to start defending their ranking.

Of course, from Coach Alexander’s perspective that top billing may be just another distraction that will provide other teams a reason “to put a thumping on us.” If the Railers continue to play this way, those other teams may not want what they ask for.

By the time you read this starting Saturday morning, the Railers and the rest of the teams in 3A will all be starting from scratch as the regionals begin on Monday. Lincoln has the opportunity to take advantage of home cooking as they are hosting a regional. Monday’s matchup pits fourth seeded Mt. Zion against number five seed Decatur Eisenhower. The winner of that contest will take on the top seeded Railers on Tuesday night at 7:00pm. Wednesday’s game has Normal U-High, the second seed and ranked seventh in the state squaring off with Decatur MacArthur. The regional final will take place at 7:00pm on Friday night.

Before I go, a special mention to all the seniors that were recognized Friday night before the game. Whether it be pep band member, cheerleader, pom squad member, or basketball player, Railer Nation appreciates your contributions and hopes you realize what it means to be a Railer and represent Lincoln and the Railer Nation. This senior class has won 97 varsity basketball games, good to tie for 11th most in school history. I’m up for seven more, how ‘bout you?


Block 7-12 15-18 30, Olden 5-8 0-0 13, M.Cook 1-4 3-5 6, W.Cook 2-3 0-0 4, Bowlby 1-4 0-0 2, Ebelherr 1-4 0-0 2, Horchem 0-1 0-0 0, Conrady 0-1 0-0 0, Krusz 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 0-0 0-0 0, Dunovsky 0-1 0-2 0. TEAM 17-38 18-25 57. 3-point field goals 5-16 (Olden 3-4, Block 1-5, M.Cook 1-1, Horchem 0-1, W.Cook 0-1, Ebelherr 0-2, Bowlby 0-2).


Wallace 10, Bishop 9, Austin 8, Thames 3, Millican 2, Tribbet 2. TEAM 13 6-8 34. 3-poinf field goals 2 (Bishop, Thames).

LCHS 17-19-10-11 57
LANPHIER 4-17-7-6 34


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