Bowlby sank a pair of free throws with 4.6 seconds left and the
Railer defense held one more time, defeating Cahokia 40-37 at the
Prairie Capital Convention Center to secure the first boys
basketball trophy at the state level since a fourth-place finish in 1980.
Lincoln, now 33-2, matching the school record for wins in a season,
will play in the Class 3A Final Four on Friday at Peoria's Carver
Arena. Game time is set for 12:15 as they take on Rockford Lutheran.
With less than a minute to go in the game, Cahokia's Darius Austin
hit a 3-pointer to put the Comanches up 37-36. After a Lincoln
timeout, Gavin Block took the ball at the free-throw line, turned
and headed down the lane, where he was fouled. His free throws with
27 seconds remaining put Lincoln on top to stay. Still, that much
time on the clock allowed Cahokia a chance to hold for the last
shot. After running the clock down, Austin was able to find DeVonte
Williams down low, but he fumbled it just enough to allow the Railer
defense to collapse on him and come away with the ball. When the
dust had settled, the ball was safely in the arms of Bowlby, who was
fouled and headed to the line.
It was a game that was easily one of the best basketball games I
have seen. With everything that was on the line, both teams showed
up and played as well as they could have. Fortunately for Railer
Nation, the team in green came out on top. A team that Lincoln had
defeated earlier in the season was going to do what they could to
change the results.
"Give them credit, they were a great team
tonight," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said. "They really closed out
on our shooters, didn't let us get our feet set. It was a great game
Free throws were one of the reasons the Railers won this one. Going
16 of 18 as a team, including 13 for 14 in the second half, Lincoln
outscored Cahokia 22-20 despite making only three field goals in the
final 16 minutes. Neither team was able to pull away from the other,
with Lincoln enjoying their largest lead of six at 33-27, while the
Comanches' biggest margin was just two (20-18). Again, simply put,
it was a great game.
Walking into the PCCC to a standing ovation, the Railers passed by a
throng of Railer fans. It was just the beginning of the showing of
Railer love by the fans who made the trip down Interstate 55 and
from all over, even as far as Utah. Probably no one imagined the
next 32 minutes would feature 12 lead changes and six ties in a game
that was not decided until the final shot from Cahokia missed the
After Block got the Railers on the board with a free throw, Cahokia
answered with a basket from Austin. Bowlby's big night, leading the
scorers with 19 points, started by converting an alley-oop pass to
put Lincoln up 3-2. Cahokia was able to take advantage of a Railer
miss and lack of getting someone back on defense as Carleton Rivers
Jr. was able to sneak behind the defense and put the Comanches up
with a dunk. Bowlby continued his hot start by draining a 3, the
287th made by the Railers this season, and Lincoln went back up 6-4.
After Cahokia tied the game, it was Bowlby again for 3. The senior,
who led the team in made 3s coming into the game, was able to make
the 3s despite having to alter his shot, using a higher arc as he
shot over the outstretched arms of the taller Cahokia defenders.
The first quarter ended with Lincoln up 11-7. Cahokia (24-9) used a
quick 5-0 run to take the lead back at 12-11 when Montez Crumble hit
the first of his two 3s on the night. The third 3 from Bowlby put
Lincoln back up 14-12, but the first hold-your-breath moment of the
night came with 3:15 to go in the first half as Block picked up his
second foul. The junior headed to the bench as the Railers would try
to figure out how to deal with having their leading scorer on the
pines the rest of the half.
Joey Olden stepped up and dropped a 17-footer to extend the lead to
four at 16-12. Cahokia took advantage of Block being out, scoring
five in a row including a 3 after a Railer turnover, that gave them
the lead back at 17-16. After the ball was knocked out of bounds by
Cahokia, coach Alexander took the opportunity to get Block in on the
offensive end and was rewarded as Block's off-balance floater off
the glass as the buzzer sounded gave the lead back to Lincoln at
To start the second half, Cahokia took the momentum back, going
up 20-18. Lincoln knotted the game at 20 as Payton Ebelherr found
Block on the baseline for an easy 2. Cahokia took the last lead they
would enjoy until the game's last minute on a free throw, caused by Olden's third foul with less than three minutes left in the quarter.
But, as had been the script for the night, it was back to Bowlby,
whose 3 from the left corner swung the game back to Lincoln 23-21.
If it seemed like the senior had a good night, you'd be right, as Bowlby was a perfect 6 for 6 on the night, including making all four
of his 3-point attempts.
[to top of second column]
After the Comanches tied the game at 23, the parade to the
free-throw line by the Railers began as Block made both free throws.
After Tarkus Ferguson was able to convert only one of three throws
after being fouled by Bowlby, the Railers headed to the fourth
quarter with the smallest of leads, up 25-24. The Lincoln defense
ramped it up a notch as a steal by Olden led to Max Cook getting
fouled on a drive to the basket. Cook made both free throws for his
only points of the night, but his impact was felt elsewhere.
"Max didn't have the best scoring night," Alexander said, "but he
handled the ball for us against some tough defense and got our guys
in the right spot."
Cahokia, however, would just not go away. The Comanches tied the
game at 27 before the Railers went on their best run of the night.
As Railer Nation knows, Lincoln has used runs of 15-plus to nothing
to put games away throughout the season. For an idea of how good
Cahokia was on Tuesday night, the best Lincoln could do was six in a
row. Block made two free throws after being fouled going to the
basket after making a great cut to the basket and getting the pass
from Ebelherr. Lincoln's last basket of the night came from Bowlby,
who was open underneath and received a no-look pass from Block. Two
more free throws from Block, who was 11 of 12 on the night, pushed
the Lincoln lead to 33-27 with 4:20 left in the game.
Again, the Comanches were not going to let the Railers begin their
celebration early. A 7-1 run by Cahokia tied the game again, the
final time the score would be even, at 34. Block's two free throws
put Lincoln back up by two, while Austin's 3 gave Cahokia their
final lead of the night and set up Block and Bowlby's heroics from
the free-throw line and on the defensive end.
Only four players scored for the Railers on Tuesday night, with Bowlby scoring 19 and Block adding 17. Olden and Max Cook each added
So, now, it's on to Peoria and the Final Four. Lincoln's
opponent, Rockford Lutheran, was a 71-60 winner over Peoria Notre
As of leaving the PCCC, ticket information was not yet available.
Check in with LDN to keep updated on the information for Friday
afternoon's game in Peoria. Lincoln's journey begins on Thursday
night as Bryson Kirby will compete in the 3-point showdown.
In closing on this one, I have to give credit to my daughter,
Carrie. As we walked out of the PCCC, her attention was drawn to the
top of the hotel in view, looking over the parking garage. What
caught her attention? A well-lit sign of Abraham Lincoln at the top
of the hotel. Her thought: "I guess Lincoln was watching over the
You're right, Carrie. Lincoln was. Although, I'm not sure we can get
that sign to Peoria. Oh well, enough of Lincoln will be there to
more than make up for it.
Bowlby 6-6 3-4 19, Block 3-7 11-12 17, M.Cook 0-5 2-2 2, Olden 1-3
0-0 2, Horchem 0-1 0-0 0, Ebelherr 0-1 0-0 0, W.Cook 0-2 0-0 0,
Conrady 0-0 0-0 0. Team 10-25 16-18 40. 3-point field goals 4-12 (Bowlby
4-4, Block 0-2, W.Cook 0-2, M.Cook 0-1, Olden 0-1, Horchem 0-1,
Austin 12, Crumble 10, Rivers 9, Hickman 3, Ferguson 3. Team 14-29
4-8 37. 3-point field goals 5-12 (Crumble 2, Rivers 2, Austin).
LCHS 11-7-7-15 40
Cahokia 7-10-7-13 37
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]
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