When the 2014
season came to an end eight months ago in Peoria, the Railers walked
out with their heads held high and the best finish in school
history, a 2nd place trophy that punctuated a 34-3
season, the most wins in school history.
So, if you talk
to the coaches and the players of this year’s squad, a team that
tips off at 8:00 tonight on the first evening of the Eaton
Electrical Round Robin Tournament against the Danville Vikings, what
does the finish last year have to do with the new season?
Sure, eight of
the 13 players on this season’s opening roster received medals in
the ceremony at the end of the 3A final. However, that team was a
senior-laden group whose names and faces graced the court at Roy S.
Anderson for as many as four years. Now, due to graduations and a
transfer, only one starter and two main reserves return, forcing
Lincoln coach Neil Alexander to reconfigure not only the starting
quintet but his bench as well.
question, much of the attention of this Railer team will focus on
6’6” senior Gavin Block. Block, who is moving up the career lists
in a number of categories, is beginning his final year at Lincoln
High School and is one of only three players in Railer history to
rank in the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, 3 point field goals
made, and games played (the others being Gregg Alexander and Matt
Schick). The Ohio University-bound Block will be called on to carry
more of the load, both offensively and defensively, and will
certainly need help from players who have not been accustomed to a
bulk of the playing time. For this Lincoln team to find success,
that aspect will have to be figured out.
Two key reserves
from last year will join the starting five this year. Seniors 5’10”
Will Cook and 6’0” Payton Ebelherr were two of the first players off
the bench last season. Neither player was asked to do more than
what was expected, although each had their moments of offensive
explosions. The explosions may not be any more frequent this
season, but a more consistent expectation does exist. Defensively,
both will be put in key spots in the trademark Railer pressure zone
defense and that is where their abilities may shine. Excelling on
defense has been a staple of recent Railer teams as the last two
seasons have seen new defensive scoring records set with last year’s
team allowing only 38.3 points per game.
From there, many
of the players are familiar, but the contributions in past seasons
will need increase. For example, other than Block, the total career
points scored by the remainder of the roster is 254 points. That
total is below what Block scored on his own during his sophomore
Those you will
recognize are 5’8” senior Jordan Perry, juniors 6’0” Aron Hopp,
5’10” Garrett Aeilts, and 5’11” KJ Fry, as well as sophomore 5’8”
Bryson Kirby. Now, let me be clear. Please do not take my mention
of those that have not contributed much in games as this team being
short on talent. Look who most of these players were behind on the
depth chart. There are probably starters on other teams in the CS8
that would not have seen much court time with last year’s squad.
Remember how great last year’s team was? Think about who they had
to battle against every day in practice to make them that good. Now
it’s their turn.
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But see, that’s
how it is different. Now these players have a chance and they will
need to step into the starting/reserve roles they are called on to
do for this team to do well. As I have said for many years during
our broadcasts as well as my articles here at LDN, with this
coaching staff, I would never count out anything they put their
collective efforts towards.
There are five
new faces on the roster. They include David Biggs (6’3” junior),
Nolan Hullinger (5’11” sophomore), Alex O’Donoghue (6’3” sophomore),
Drew Bacon (6’4” freshman), and Isaiah Bowers (6’1” freshman). How
these players fit into the rotation will take time to figure out,
but usually by the Collinsville Holiday Tournament, Railer fans will
have a good idea of how this team shapes up and who is doing what
for this team.
Last season was
a magical ride. Every team’s goal is to play in the final game of
the season and last year’s Railers did just that. The final score
did not favor our hometown heroes, but the outpouring of love,
respect, and genuine caring will be felt by all that were at Roy S.
Anderson the night of the championship game. Will the 2014-15
Railers be able to make their own mark on LCHS history? I have no
doubts. What that mark will be is a show that won’t have its final
episode for three and a half months.
matters, sports math is at play again. Two new members have joined
the Central State Eight, Decatur MacArthur and Decatur Eisenhower,
bringing the total of teams to ten. Yes, eight is now equal to
ten. The former Winter Classic that was hosted by Glenwood until
last year when it was in Jacksonville is now a round robin
tournament hosted by a rotation of five CS8 schools. The conference
season will tip-off in new fashion with an all-day shootout at the
Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield with all ten teams
getting their first taste of conference action on December 6.
As for tonight,
along with the Railers and Vikings in the nightcap, Morton will face
Mahomet-Seymour to open things up at 5:00 while Cahokia and
Champaign Centennial will play at 6:30.
Before I go, I
want to take just a moment on opening night to mention Mike Fak.
Not long ago, Mike passed away unexpectedly. His impact on online
news options in Lincoln is unprecedented. A few years ago it was
Mike who talked me into writing articles for LDN about the Railer
games. I wasn’t sure about it, but Mike convinced me he didn’t need
a certain format or style; just write about the game like you were
talking to a friend. All these years later I am honored that LDN
allows me to bring you my thoughts on Railer basketball. For that,
I thank them but would be remiss if there wasn’t a thank you to Mike
for his getting me involved. Thanks Mike.
numbers to think about heading into the season:
Something that could happen as early as Saturday morning,
with their fourth win of the season, LCHS will reach the 1,700 win
mark as a school.
With the 14th game of the season, Coach Alexander
will coach in his 750th game at LCHS.