Send a link to a friend  Share

[December 29, 2015]  by Jeff Benjamin

The song tells us rainy days and Mondays always get us down. Well, if the Lincoln Railers had played their entire Monday game the way they did during the first quarter and a half, you could have added the Railers to that list. Fortunately, the three point shooting came around and Lincoln played just enough defense to get an opening round 48-45 win over Fort Zumalt North at the 2015 Prairie Farms Holiday Classic. The win advances the Railers to a second round matchup with East St. Louis on Tuesday.

Senior Garrett Aelits had a chance to secure the win with free throws with 13.7 seconds remaining. Aeilts hit the first, but missed the second leaving the door open for the Panthers. However, being out of timeouts, the Panthers were forced to improvise and their last second shot was more of a contorted heave that fell short and Railers survived in a game where they did not play their best. The main goal in the tournament is win and move on and that is what Lincoln did.

“Well, we got the win,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game. “But we certainly were not sharp today and we were playing a step behind all day. We won, but there’s a lot to work on before tomorrow.”

In typical Lincoln fashion, it was the shooting from behind the three point line that put this one in the win column. Over the last three games, the Railers have made 37 three-pointers, double figures in each game including 11 on Monday. Whether it was the weather or the drive down from Lincoln, the Railers seemed uninspired during the opening part of the contest. Easy points in the paint, either on set plays or the dominating inside play of Ft. Zumalt’s Blake Wilson on the offensive glass, set the Panthers out to a surprising 10-3 lead, Lincoln’s only points coming from Aeilts.

The senior answered the run with another three to pull Lincoln within four at 10-6, but those points were the only scores for the Railers (8-2) in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Panthers found themselves pushing out to an early double digit lead at 16-6 at the end of the first quarter. Making matters worse, leading scorer Aron Hopp picked up his second foul with 42 seconds left in the first quarter. Wilson continued his role as Scrooge on the inside, scoring on offensive rebounds. His last score put everyone on upset alert as the Panthers climbed to a 22-10 lead. In that time, Lincoln got baskets from Hopp and Isaiah Bowers, both on scores in the lane, a far cry from the numerous three point attempts in the first quarter. The inside play of Wilson and the Panthers was worrisome to the Railers.

“That is a good team there and they played with a purpose and that was to pound it inside,” Alexander said. “As far as the rebounding, we aren’t mean enough right now to get rebounds.”

When in doubt, do what you know. Bryson Kirby started a run of six straight Lincoln field goals from behind the arc. After an answer from the Panthers (3-4), KJ Fry hit a three from the right corner before Hopp hit a pair of free throws. Lincoln’s twelve point deficit had been cut in half and, thanks to Bowers, Fry sliced three more off the margin. Bowers was unable to grab the offensive rebound, but his dive to the floor to tip the ball out to an open Fry kept the play alive, enough for Lincoln to pull within three. The Panthers mishandled their attempt to score before the half and Lincoln’s final shot fell short as the Railers were feeling a bit better, down only three.

Wilson started the scoring as he was fouled on, yes, an offensive rebound. Wilson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but one thing he and his teammates struggled with was free throw shooting, something in the end that cost them. As a team, only 9 of the 20 attempts were good and when you lose by three, it is an easy area to look at for blame. Of course, Lincoln fans were probably wondering why the Railers were only visitors to the charity stripe four times.

Aeilts pulled Lincoln closer with a three from well beyond the top of the key. After a lay-in from Zumalt’s Austin Schwerdt, Fry knotted the game at 27 from the left corner. Finally, at the 4:40 mark of the third quarter, Lincoln grabbed the lead back on a three from Aeilts. The lead stretched to five on a finger roll layup by Fry, the Panthers ended the run as the Lincoln lead stood at 32-29.

[to top of second column]

After a Zumalt timeout, Lincoln ran the alley oop lob play to perfection as Fry’s pass found an open Bowers to increase the margin to 34-29. The Panthers drew within a pair at 34-32, but Fry connected again to put Lincoln up 37-32. Again, Wilson was the culprit as he scored inside, this time after a reverse layup after escaping a triple team of Railers that had him trapped on the baseline under the basket. Lincoln’s lead heading to the fourth was a mere single point at 37-36.

Kirby played big off the bench and he connected on a key three pointer to start the fourth and push the Lincoln margin to four. Ft. Zumalt would not go away and scored the next three only to be thwarted by Fry’s fifth three of the day. Hopp scored on the next possession by driving by the defense down the left side of the lane to put the Railers up 45-39. A three pointer from Eric Rothermich cut the lead in half. A jumper in the lane from Hopp with 2:48 left put Lincoln up 47-42 and just 15 seconds later, the Panthers cut the lead to two.

From there, the Railers were able to run the clock down, forcing the Panthers to foul. Having only one team foul late into the quarter cost Ft. Zumalt as they spent a lot of time fouling. Finally, it was Aeilts to the line with 13.7 seconds to go. Coming in at 92 percent, you felt pretty good with him heading to the line. The first free throw crawled over the front of the rim, but the second one bounced off, giving the Panthers one final shot. However, the Lincoln defense forced Ft. Zumalt to the near sideline and a jumper that was closely guarded by three Railers fell way short and the final seconds ticked away to another Lincoln win.

Survive and advance.

The Railers were led by a pair in double figures. Fry, with 17, and Aeilts, with 13, combined to go 9-19 from three-point range. Hopp added eight, while Kirby drained two big threes for six points. Bowers added the other four for the Railers.

The win puts the Railers into an 11:30 matchup on Tuesday with East St. Louis, 75-55 winners over Belleville East. If the Flyers play like they did on Monday, they will be very difficult to beat. They will put pressure on the Railers that will put Lincoln to the test. If the Railers are not able to control the pace and be somewhat competitive on the rebounding front, it could be a long start to the day for Lincoln. If Lincoln wins, they would play at 6:30pm Tuesday night. A Railer loss would see them play at 5:00pm.


Fry 6-9 0-0 17, Aeilts 4-11 1-2 13, Hopp 3-8 2-2 8, Kirby 2-4 0-0 6, Bowers 2-8 0-0 4, Bacon 0-0 0-0 0, Hullinger 0-1 0-0 0, Biggs 0-0 0-0 0. TEAM 17-41 3-4 48. 3pt FG 11-27 (Fry 5-8, Aeilts 4-11, Kirby 2-4, Hopp 0-1, Hullinger 0-1, Bowers 0-2). Rebounds 18, Assists 14, Turnovers 17.

Wilson 15, Brister 7, Schwerdt 7, Rothermich 6, Powells 6, Owens 4. TEAM 16-31 9-20 45. 3pt FG 4-9 (Rothermich 2, Brister, Schwerdt). Rebounds 28, Assists 6, Turnovers 12.

LCHS 6-15-16-11 48
FT. ZUMALT 16-8-12-9 45

[Jeff Benjamin]

Back to top