Railers get win, capture Apollo title

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[February 17, 2018]  As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Dolph Stanley Court in Taylorville, the outcome of the game was not in doubt. In fact, by the halfway mark of the third, you had the feeling it would be a happy ride back to Lincoln. No, the most noticeable thing was the quintet on the floor for the Railers. All seniors. A senior group that was reaching a goal that had eluded them for three previous years.

When the buzzer sounded on Lincoln’s 41-24 win over Taylorville, the group of Titus Cannon, Tate Sloan, Drew Bacon, Ben Grunder, and Isaiah Bowers were able to share something that had been on their mind since the beginning of the season. “This group of seniors had never won a conference championship or a regional title,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said. “This was a goal that they set. Our first year in the conference and we wanted to win. Of course, we lost our first game and right away we were behind the eight ball but they worked hard and it worked out.”

With the Railers atop the Apollo at 10-1, a win guaranteed the outright title with no chance of being caught. In Taylorville, the Railers were facing a squad they knocked off in Lincoln in early December by 35 points, a game where the Tornadoes were held to just five field goals. By the time the contest was in the book Friday night, it would not be much better for the hosts.

The Railers (22-5, 11-1) were not the only team playing for something. Taylorville was celebrating Senior Night and seeking a 20-win season plus they had the chance to spoil Lincoln’s bid for the conference crown. Lincoln would have to withstand an emotional night for the Tornadoes. However, it was the Railers that got off to a quick start. Cannon and Grunder both connected for three-pointers to get Lincoln on the board. After a 15-footer from the baseline from Grunder, fresh off his 30 point night earlier in the week at Bloomington, Lincoln had jumped out to an early 8-0 lead.

The Tornadoes did not get on the board until Jase Bergschneider split a pair of free throws with 2:27 left in the quarter. Bacon stretched the lead to double digits when he hit the third three of the night for Lincoln. Taylorville coach Ryan Brown had seen enough with his team down 11-1 and called a timeout to settle his squad with 1:49 remaining. Most coaches take timeouts to prevent their opponent from expanding the lead. Coach Brown probably never thought his team would respond as they did.

The Tornadoes went on a 12-0 run led by junior Jack Livingston who hit a pair of threes from a variety of areas on the court. During the run, Grunder had been saddled with two fouls and during his absence the Railers seemed a bit out of sorts on both ends of the court. Grunder re-entered the contest with 4:54 left in the first half, knowing he and the Railers could ill afford to pick up a third foul. Down 13-11, Cannon tied the game after a steal and layup. It was Livingston again with another three putting the Tornadoes (19-8,, 7-4) up 16-13.

Lincoln climbed back within one after a battle under the boards resulted in basket interference being called after a shot from Bowers was counted when Taylorville grabbed the net while the ball was on the rim. The Railers, even with all the struggles and missed shots in the first half, found a way to take the lead into half. With 1.2 seconds left in the half, Cannon took the inbounds pass at the wing along the right sideline and let a shot go towards the basket. As the buzzer sounded, the ball caromed off the backboard and in, giving Lincoln an 18-16 lead. I guess you live by the three and die by the three.

“We couldn’t find Livingston out there, I mean they had 16 points in the first half and he had nine of them,” Alexander said. “We didn’t talk and communicate out there. We’ve got to do that. It was the guys on the bench pointing out where we needed to be. We have to be better about that.”

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The second half was all Lincoln. The Railers continued the run started at the end of the first half, a run that ended up being a 22-1 outburst. The early stages of the second half saw the Railers concentrate more on getting the ball inside as Grunder sank shots from 10 and 14 feet before Bowers got one to fall from 10 feet as well. By the time Cannon anticipated perfectly and picked off a telegraphed pass, going in for an easy layup, Lincoln had jumped out to a 26-16 lead. Yes, the Railers had the same lead in the first quarter and that disappeared but this felt different. There was a determination in how the Railers had reached this margin, a margin that would continue to grow.

Isaac Dewberry’s three from the corner preceded another layup for Cannon, who scored a game-high 14 points. As the teams readied for the fourth quarter, Taylorville had been held to one free throw and trailed 31-17. In the first meeting, Lincoln held the Tornadoes to just five field goals and this game was heading in the same direction. The run continued as Jermaine Hamlin got his first basket of the nice on a soft touch shot off the glass. Hamlin may have only scored two but his presence on the defensive end, whether altering shots and outright blocking them caused Taylorville to consider other scoring options that challenging the 6’9” junior. One block would have made the coach of any collegiate volleyball team proud as it looked and sounded like the perfect spike.

The Lincoln run reached its conclusion as Sloan scored on the perfect out of bounds pass from Grunder before Grunder scored again as the Railers were now up 37-17. Livingston hit a pair of free throws before Cannon sank two of his own, Lincoln’s only two from the charity stripe all night. Finally, Jordan Moats ended the second half drought by hitting a long three, their first basket of the half. The teams traded field goals to post the final score of 41-24. Again, a group of seniors who had been through a lot relished in the sounding buzzer, a sound that translated into conference champions.

Cannon and Grunder led the scoring with 14 and 13 points respectively. Bowers added four while Bacon and Dewberry scored three. Sloan and Hamlin each added a basket.

The final road game of the season is on tap Saturday as the Railers travel to Decatur to take on former conference foe Eisenhower. The game time is one hour earlier than normal with the varsity tipping at 6:30 and sophomores going at 5pm. The sophomores were 49-37 winners in Taylorville with Kaden Froebe leading the way with 16 points and Isaac Dewberry scoring 12.

Friday also marked the release of the IHSA pairings for the state tournament. The Railers were assigned to the Rochester regional. Lincoln picked up the three seed in the Decatur sub-sectional and will play their first game on Wednesday, February 28 against the winner of the opening round contest between SHG and Jacksonville. If Lincoln wins, they will advance to the regional final that Friday, March 2, against either Lanphier, Jerseyville, or Rochester.


Cannon 5 2-2 14, Grunder 6 0-0 13, Bowers 2 0-0 4, Bacon 1 0-0 3, Dewberry 1 0-0 3, Sloan 1 0-0 2, Hamlin 1 0-0 2. TEAM 17 2-2 41. 3pt FG 5 (Cannon 2, Bacon, Grunder, Dewberry).


Livingston 11, Moats 5, Bergschneider 4, Champley 2, Wright 2. TEAM 8 4-8 24. 3pt FG 4 (Livingston 3, Moats).

LCHS 11-7-13-10 41
TAYLORVILLE 6-10-1-7 24

[Jeff Benjamin]

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