Lincoln vetoes Senators upset bid

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[January 30, 2016]  In the last game Lincoln played before Christmas this season, the Railers dropped 83 points on the Springfield Senators. That contest, played at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium, featured a record-setting performance by Garrett Aeilts, who hit a school record 10 threes in a game on his way to 32 points as the Railers coasted to a 40 point win.

On Friday night, as Coach Neil Alexander had warned, the Senators were in turmoil for the first game and this one would be different. How right he was. At least one thing stayed the same – Lincoln came away with the win, but it was not as easy as their pre-Christmas battle.

Senior Aron Hopp and sophomore Isaiah Bowers combined to score Lincoln’s last 20 points as the Railers held on for a 53-47 win at Willard Duey Gymnasium. The two joined forces for 36 points, with Hopp leading the way with 22 points, 20 of those in the second half.

Free throws again were a key to the win as the Railers hit 16 of 20 from the line, staying in step with their season average of 80 percent coming into the game. Lincoln missed only one of their last twelve attempts in the fourth quarter. The victory moves their season record to 12-9 and allowed the Railers to move back to .500 in conference play at 6-6.

“I thought we played OK, but still have things to work on,” Alexander said. “We had too many unforced errors, just silly mistakes. But, we hit our free throws and we got the win.”

In the game, neither team had a lead bigger than nine with each squad going on various runs throughout the game. After the newest starter for Lincoln, at least on Friday night, sophomore Ben Grunder hit a pair of free throws in the game’s first 20 seconds, Springfield ran off seven in a row behind Isaac Nelson. At the pace of the early scoring, it felt as though both teams could hit 83. Well, instead of a rainstorm the offenses for each team hit a drought.

Bowers had a couple of baskets to pull Lincoln within one, but two quick fouls sent him to the bench in the first quarter. With the sophomore on the bench, it is obvious the Lincoln offense does not function as well. After the Senators went back up by three, KJ Fry hit his only basket of the night, a 15 footer, to pull Lincoln within 9-8 at the end of the first.

Bryson Kirby, who is third on the team in made threes, hit Lincoln’s first from behind the arc to put the Railers back up 11-9. When Nelson tied the game, Kirby hit again to push the lead back to three. “I thought Bryson hit some big shots when we needed them,” Alexander said. Hopp stepped to the line for a pair of free throws to extend Lincoln’s lead to 16-11. Henry Berry scored the final points of the half to cut the Springfield deficit to three at 16-13. Again, it was certainly different from the first game when Lincoln had 38 points in the first half while Friday night saw both teams combining for just 29.

The scoring picked up a bit in the third, with Hopp striking first to increase the lead to five. Four from the hosts cut the Lincoln lead to one at 18-17 before Hopp completed a three point play after a drive to the basket. After another three from Nelson, Bowers hit a three and then scored on a fast break layup to push the lead back to six. Kirby finished off the scoring with another three, sending Lincoln to the fourth with the lead at 29-24.

Grunder started the fourth as he did the game, at the free throw line. After splitting a pair to put Lincoln up 30-26, Kirby hit his fourth and final three of the night to extend the lead to 33-26. For the rest of the game, if you were not wearing number 5 or 33 in a Lincoln uniform, you didn’t score. Hopp scored four in a row with drives to the basket, the last sending the Lincoln advantage to nine at 37-28. For the game, Lincoln struggled from the outside, but their aggressiveness to the basket was rewarded. “We made layups tonight,” Alexander said, “something we haven’t been doing. We also worked on rebounding this week and I think that is where Ben (Grunder) really gives us something.”

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Another basket from Bowers gave the Railers a 39-30 lead and things were looking good for Lincoln. However, missed shots and turnovers allowed the Senators (3-17, 1-10) the opportunity to get back in the game and they took every handout. By the time Nelson hit a three off a Lincoln miscue, Springfield had knotted the game at 39 with 2:09 left. But, when you’ve had the troubles that Springfield has had this year, it just seems something is going to go wrong. That “thing” was Aron Hopp, who hit a pair of free throws and converted another three point play to jump the Railers back up 44-39. Keon Day, the conference’s leading scorer, was held to just 12, but his three point play put the margin back to tow at 44-42.

Bowers hit Lincoln’s last field goal, but that was answered by Springfield and again the gap was just two with 45 seconds remaining. Hopp stretched the lead back to four with a pair of free throws. With Lincoln up 48-44, Springfield’s last best chance may have disappeared after a call argued by the Springfield coach resulted in a technical foul being assessed. This was not a one big blowup moment. The officials and the Springfield bench had been at odds throughout the game, almost scolding them with each subsequent disagreement. With 30 seconds to go, that straw had finally been snapped. Hopp hit both free throws and then was fouled where he repeated the feat and that once close game was now back to an eight point lead at 52-44.

Springfield scored a late three points, but Bowers made one of two from the line to put away the six point win. It was not a pretty win or a wow-factor of ten contest. But, most importantly, Lincoln got the win and with every game, the confidence seems to be growing. This may not be a team that a lot folks are planning for a long stay in tournament play. However, as Coach Alexander said, “I’m not sure there are a lot of teams that will want to play us because on any given night, you never know what can happen. And, with us playing at home, no, we could a tough out.”

The only players to score for the Railers were the starters. Hopp led with 22 and Bowers added 14. Kirby joined them in double figures with 12, while Grunder scored three and Fry chipped with two.

Lincoln’s next game is Friday night at home against MacArthur. The Railers have struggled lately against the Generals with Lincoln hanging close in their last matchup, a 49-46 loss just two weeks ago. This one will be at home, so a big turnout from Railer Nation would be appreciated. Nothing tastes quite as good as home cooking.


Hopp 5 12-14 22, Bowers 6 1-2 14, Kirby 4 0-0 12, Grunder 0 3-4 3, Fry 1 0-0 2, Aeilts 0 0-0 0, O’Donoghue 0 0-0 0. TEAM 16 16-20 53. 3pt FG 5 (Kirby 4, Bowers).


Nelson 20, Day 12, Pettis 6, Minder 5, Berry 4. TEAM 15 12-16 47. 3pt FG 5 (Nelson 4, Minder).

LCHS 8-8-13-24 53
SPRINGFIELD 9-4-11-23 47

[Jeff Benjamin]

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