That's when the Railers were victims of a Railer-type
defensive-infused run. The Mustangs blitzed Lincoln with a 26-2 run
fueled by aggressive pressure defense that led to Lincoln turnovers.
A team that averaged just six turnovers a game for the season was
forced into five turnovers in the just the final two minutes of the
third quarter, the segment of the game that turned the outcome.
Morgan Park was able to score 17 points in the second half off
By virtue of their win on Friday over Rockford
Lutheran, Lincoln had guaranteed the best finish in school history.
The early stages of the game belonged to Lincoln even though Morgan
Park jumped on top first as first-team all-stater Josh Cunningham
scored on the inside. Lincoln, working against the Mustang defense,
got an easy score on an old reliable play as an alley-oop lob from
Max Cook to Edward Bowlby tied the game at two. Charlie Moore hit
the first of his two 3-pointers in the quarter to give the lead back
to the squad from Chicago, and Joey Olden answered to knot the game
Moore's second 3 was from well beyond the 3-point line to put
Lincoln down 8-5, and an offensive rebound from Cunningham stretched
the margin to five. The Railers were getting good looks at the
basket, but early shots were not falling. Tyler Horchem brought
Lincoln closer with a 3-pointer, and when Cook drove the lane for
the basket and was fouled, the Railers had tied the game at 10. Cook
missed the free throw that would have given Lincoln the lead, and
very uncharacteristically, the Railers struggled at the free-throw
line, hitting just four of their 12 attempts.
The Railers began their best stretch of basketball on Saturday as
Gavin Block was fouled going to the hoop. It was an important play,
as with over two minutes left in the quarter, Cunningham was forced
to go to the bench with his second foul. Block's first free throw
put Lincoln on top for the first time and also allowed him to reach
the 1,000-point mark in his career. The junior missed the second,
but a Morgan Park miss allowed the Railers to come down and find
Block again, who connected for 3, and the Lincoln lead had grown to
14-10. With Cunningham out of the game, the Morgan Park offense
seemed to stagnate, while the Railer defense took advantage. Another
lob, this one from Olden to Bowlby, increased the lead to six, and
when Block hit a 3 as time ticked down at the end of the first
quarter, all was looking good in River City as the Railers were on a
14-0 run and led 19-10.
Morgan Park finally ended the Lincoln run with a bucket to cut
the Railer lead to seven to start the second quarter. The movement
of the Railer offense put Morgan Park in foul trouble early as Cook
went to the line early in the second quarter. The senior missed the
front end of the one-and-bonus and the Railers did not get to the
line the rest of the period, missing opportunity based on the Morgan
Park foul trouble.
Unlike Friday, the 3s were falling for Lincoln in the second
quarter. Three-pointers from Block and Cook sandwiched a basket from
Morgan Park, and the Lincoln lead was now at 11, up 25-14.
A quick four-point spurt brought the Mustangs (24-6) within
seven. More important, Bowlby headed to the bench at the 2:40 mark
with his second foul. As this Lincoln team has shown all season, on
any given night, someone unexpected may come up big. With Bowlby on
the bench, Adam Conrady was called to the battle and did yeoman's
work on the boards and playing defense.
Olden hit his second 3 of the afternoon to put the Lincoln lead
back to double figures at 28-18. Another 3 from Morgan Park pulled
them closer, but the Railer end-of-quarter magic continued. After a
missed shot as time was ticking down, the rebound fell to Horchem
hanging around the front of the basket. Horchem's flip shot crawled
over the front of the rim as the horn sounded, sending Lincoln into
the locker room with all the momentum and a nine-point advantage of
Shooting woes were not on the minds of any member of the Railer
Nation, which took over Carver Arena. Red and green as far as the
eye could see were thinking about the possibilities that were just
16 minutes away. The Railers shot 55 percent (11-20) in the first
half, including 7 of 14 from 3-point range. Morgan Park did not
shoot poorly, making 47 percent of their shots. The key stat was
that Lincoln had scored 12 points thanks to the nine miscues made by
The early stages of the third quarter continued to be the
playground of the Railers. Block scored on a basket going over
Cunningham. After a 3 from Lamont Walker, Bowlby corralled an
offensive rebound for a putback to give Lincoln a 34-24 lead. Morgan
Park scored again to cut the lead to eight, before Block scored
Lincoln's next five points on an out-of-bounds lob play, a drive
down the lane and a free throw. When Block split the free throws at
the 2:43 mark, Lincoln had extended to the largest lead of the game
at 39-26 and things were looking very good for the Railers.
Then everything changed.
Morgan Park turned up the pressure, a ball-hawking, quick
pressure like the Railers had not faced all season.
"They came after us hard, and we had turnovers and missed layups,"
Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said. "You cannot give them the
advantage. We didn't make the adjustments."
Lincoln committed five of their 16 turnovers for the game in the
final two minutes of the third quarter. Morgan Park had closed to
39-31. As the Railers were looking to hold for the last shot, Dellan
Whatley knocked the ball away from Block and converted a layup with
12 seconds to go. The six-point lead quickly dwindled to four as
Whatley again made his presence known by stealing the inbounds pass
and dropping another layup down. Just that quickly, the 13-point
lead was down to four as the teams headed to the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs continued the run to start the fourth with another 3
and Lincoln's lead was almost gone, up only 39-38. Railers fans were
able to finally exhale when Bowlby was able to break out in front of
the Morgan Park defense for a lay-in to push the margin back to
three at 41-38. It would be unimaginable that the next time Lincoln
scored, they would be down by 11. After the Mustangs scored to take
their first lead since being up 10-8 in the first, they would not
stop until more Lincoln turnovers became quick points for Morgan
Park. In just about the first five minutes of the fourth, the
Railers were forced into six more turnovers and the hopes for the
state title were slipping away.
One possession after another came up empty for the Railers while
Morgan Park either scored baskets or were sent to the line. By the
time the barrage was over, Lincoln (34-3) and their fans were
looking at a 52-41 deficit with 1:51 left in the game.
This team has heart and would not quit. Horchem hit a 3 to pull
Lincoln to within eight. The obvious strategy was to send Morgan
Park to the line and make them win it from the free-throw line.
After a Morgan Park miss, the Railers were again not able to convert
and were forced to foul. With Morgan Park up 54-44, Block split a
pair of free throws, and Lincoln was able to turn the ball over and
get a huge 3 from Will Cook with 49 seconds to go. The junior's 3
pulled Lincoln to within six at 54-48. After another Railer foul,
Morgan Park made only one free throw and Block went to the basket,
only to be fouled himself with 27 seconds remaining.
Being down only seven, it would take some kind of effort to
complete the comeback. Block made the first to make it 55-49, but
his second miss sealed the game for Morgan Park as Block fouled the
Morgan Park rebounder, committing his fifth foul, joining Max Cook
who had fouled out at the 1:13 mark. Free throws from the Mustangs
rounded out the final score while red and green tears filled Railer
After the game, coach Alexander summed up the feelings in the
"I'm crushed and they are crushed. There will always be a special
place for this group," he said.
Players with jerseys over their heads to hide their faces, heads
in hands over what might have been. For some unexplained reason, it
was not meant to be.
[to top of second column]
One of the great things about youth is they have a short memory.
The sadness and emptiness that Railer Nation felt as the season's
final buzzer sounded was reversed on Saturday night as the Railers
were treated to a homecoming befitting royalty. A parade that
started at Steak 'n Shake and wound through lines of cars and fans
waving, cheering, honking horns along the way through town
emphasized to the team that this town was behind them, win or lose.
As the parade got closer to the high school, the crowds grew to
welcome home this team.
When activities director Sam Knox asked the pep band for a
rendition of "Lincoln, Lincoln" to welcome back the Railers, the
team entered Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium to a thunderous ovation. Some
players were carrying cameras, documenting the moment while Edward
Bowlby carried the spoils of their efforts, the trophy indicating
they had won second place in the state of Illinois.
After Knox ran down some information about the season, the
microphone was turned over to coach Alexander. The Hall of Famer
thanked his coaches and players for all their hard work, every
stoppage of words causing an eruption of applause. Alexander then
directed some feeling for Railer Nation.
"Every bit of love and respect you (the fans) have for them (as
he pointed to the team and coaches), believe me, they have for you,"
A number of the players spoke to the crowd, most giving thanks to
their teammates, coaches and fans.
Senior Tyler Horchem may have summed up the night the best: "We
have the best fans. We have the best student section. We have the
best team in Lincoln High School history."
Plain and simple, it was a love fest. An opportunity for the
fans, just one more time, to show their appreciation for the hard
work and effort of the players, coaches and managers, as well as a
chance for them to say thank you.
Joey Olden applauded the fans by saying, "You have allowed us to
accept second place. It won't take us a week to get over this, and
you have helped us in that."
A couple of other notes from the night saw Lincoln Mayor Keith
Snyder announce that the portion of the road that goes in front of
the school where Wyatt Avenue turns to Primm Road will be renamed
Something fitting about that, isn't it? When you talk basketball
around here and say things are being done the Railer Way, you know
what that is.
Also, due to IHSA restrictions, only 22 medals are usually handed
out during the medal and trophy presentation. It is common for a
school superintendent to be given one. Because of the limitations in
medals, and the superintendent felt that "he deserves more than I
do," LCHS Superintendent Robert Bagby called out manager Sam Tiffany
and draped the medal around his neck. Nice move, Mr. Bagby.
In closing, Mr. Knox repeated a quote from coach Alexander from
after the win over Champaign Central. Coach Al said, "By this time
of year, most coaches are ready for the season to be over. I could
coach this team forever."
Well, one thing is for sure: Lincoln and Railer Nation will
remember and always adore this team.
Thank you, Railers, for a great ride. The journey may not have
ended exactly where we wanted it, but that is the joy of the journey
— you never know where you are headed or how you will get there. The
pleasure is being along for the ride.
If I may, a few thank-yous. First, to coach Neil Alexander and
the Railers. What a fantastic season to cover, both on the radio and
here on LDN.
Thank you to Jim Ash at WLCN radio, who allowed me to do the
games for the 13th year in a row, and to the Youngquists and
everyone at LDN who let me share my thoughts here at Lincoln Daily
My broadcast partners throughout the season — Josh Komnick, Scott
Kirby and Joel Vinson — I'm glad they were along to help me sound
like I might know what I'm talking about. A special thank you to our
producer at the radio station for most of our games this season,
Paula Kodatt. Listeners have no idea the issues that may come up
during our broadcasts and, if you didn't notice any problems, that
is all a credit to the behind-the-scenes work of Paula.
Thank you to Mitch Smith, the Prater family and William Krepps,
who acted as transportation when needed for our daughter. Sometimes
schedules get in the way of people being where they need to be, and
they made sure she was taken care of.
Finally, a thank-you to my wife and daughter. They are the ones
who have to put up with late nights, both home and road games, lots
of travel and especially me. Although, it is hard to fathom that
when next season rolls around, our daughter will truly be a Railer.
Thanks again to everyone for all their comments. I appreciate
them and hope you enjoyed the Railer articles. I look forward to
next year. First game is only eight months away.
Block 6-8 4-8 19, Bowlby 4-6 0-0 8, Horchem 3-9 0-0 8, Olden 2-7
0-0 6, M.Cook 2-6 0-2 5, W.Cook 1-2 0-0 3, Conrady 0-2 0-0 0,
Ebelherr 0-1 0-0 0, Krusz 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 0-0 0-0 0, Dunovsky 0-1
0-2 0. Team 18-42 4-12 49. 3-point field goals 9-26 (Block 3-4,
Olden 2-5, Horchem 2-7, W.Cook 1-1, M.Cook 1-5, Ebelherr 0-1,
Dunovsky 0-1, Bowlby 0-2).
MORGAN PARK (59)
Cunningham 13, Moore 12, Walker 12, Randall 8, T.Johnson 5,
Harris 5, Whatley 4. Team 18-35 16-25 59. 3-point field goals 7-16
(Moore 3, Randall 2, Walker, Harris)
Morgan Park 10-11-14-24 59
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]
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Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles