Saturday, February 11, 2012
Sports News

Railers storm past Cyclones

By Jeff Benjamin

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[February 11, 2012]  One day after receiving the No. 1 seed in the Decatur Regional, the Lincoln Railers took to the court on Friday night to show that, even though their record was below .500, they were a team worthy of that top spot. No, the five teams at the regional don't strike one as the top five in the state, but take a moment and ask the folks from SHG who played more like a top team on Friday night.

Lincoln used a strong defensive effort and a balanced scoring attack to dominate SHG 49-30. The win moves the Railers to break-even on the season (13-13) and in the conference (7-7).

When Railer Nation walked into Jim Belz Gymnasium, the improvements to the facility were quite noticeable. This certainly is not the same building we are used to seeing. With new flooring, entrance, concession stand and lighting, just to mention a few, the appearance was a much cleaner, open space.

Well, the Railer team that squared off against the Cyclones was also not the same squad that lost to SHG by six in mid-January. Trailing by as many as a dozen in the first matchup, Lincoln faced only one deficit Friday night -- after SHG scored the game's first basket.

A key to Lincoln's early start was the dribble penetration of Max Cook. The sophomore had two driving layups after getting past his defender, the second resulting in a foul and old-fashioned three-point play. Cook's points sandwiched a long 3 from Austin Kirby, all helping the Railers to an early 8-4 advantage.

SHG was able to knot the game at eight with leading scorer Austin Eagleton making a free throw and his first 3 of the night. For much of the first quarter, the Lincoln defense did what it failed to do in the Cyclones' 42-36 win in Lincoln. Eagleton forced a number of 3s in the first quarter, caused mostly by the Railers pushing him back two to three feet behind the arc, not letting him stand at the edge of the stripe. The frustration caused was evident in each subsequent forced shot from Eagleton.

The second quarter was all about the 3s. Christian Van Hook, who was able to avoid serious foul trouble, started the scoring with a 3. After a Cyclone basket, it was Will Podbelsek's turn to hit from long range. With the score 14-12, the Railers went on a 12-0 run, thanks in large part to hot shooting from 3-point range. Kirby hit his second 3 of the night to get the run started. It was not the first big shot the senior would hit on the night. Van Hook converted on a basket and free throw as the Railers' leading scorer faked setting a screen down low, made a quick move back to the basket, caught a bullet pass and laid it up and in. Up 20-12, the senior barrage continued with 3s from Jake Olson and Jordan Gesner. SHG was finally able to get on the board again near the end of the half, but the Railer advantage going into the locker room was 12 at 26-14.

The Cyclones (12-12, 8-7) picked up where they left off at the end of the half, getting a 3 from Eagleton. The leading Cyclone scorer had been held to just four first-half points. Leading 26-17, the Railers got on the board in the second half on a backdoor pass from Cook to Gesner. Then it was back to Eagleton for SHG, hitting two more 3s, bringing SHG as close as they had been since early in the second quarter. In need of a big shot, Lincoln turned back to the seniors, with Kirby connecting on his third 3 of the night, pushing the lead back to nine at 31-22. Kirby tied his season high with nine on the night.

From one senior to another, the rest of the quarter belonged to Van Hook. Drawing ever closer to 500 career points, Van Hook scored six in a row for the Railers, including a jumper from the left wing for Lincoln's final points of the third. His shot seemed to be too early in the offense as the clock was winding down. What the make did was make it possible for the Lincoln "D" to show off, as SHG could never get into rhythm and failed to even get a shot as the horn sounded to end the third quarter with Lincoln up by 10 at 37-27.

An early score from SHG brought them to within eight to start the fourth. Fortunately for the Railers, it was the final time their deficit would be in single digits. Since the seniors were in the spotlight for much of the Railer success, it seemed fitting that two seniors would connect on one of the game's nicer baskets and start a game-clinching 10-0 run. On a crisp backdoor cut, Gesner made a difficult catch of a needle-threading pass from Olson, and his momentum forced him to switch to a reverse layup with the left hand. Another bucket from Gesner stretched the Lincoln lead to 41-29. No matter how hard they tried, things just weren't going right for the Cyclones.

In a position of being forced to foul, the Railers got their next six points from the line as Cook and Gesner made all six of the charity tosses. The Cyclones were able to add their final point from the free-throw line to make it 47-30. The scoring was rounded out on free throws from Dane Eimer and Tommy Harris, and the 19-point win was in the bag.

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Coach Neil Alexander, noting a few areas he would like to see tightened, was mostly pleased with his team's effort. "I'm real proud of how we played tonight. It's as close to playing a full 32 minutes as we've done all year," Alexander said. "But, if we come out tomorrow (Saturday) night and don't take care of things, then tonight will have meant nothing."

The Railers were led in scoring by seniors as they combined for 35 of the 49 points. Van Hook, now just four points away from 500 at LCHS, led the team with 12 points, followed by Gesner's 11 points. Kirby added nine, as did sophomore Cook. Cook was limited to only a few minutes of action in the second half with what appeared to be a lower leg injury on his left side. Olson rounded out the senior scoring with three, joining Podbelsek with three in the contest. Eimer and Harris each added a free throw.

How important were the seniors Friday night? Alexander had nothing but praise. "For a team to win, they have to have senior leadership. The younger kids can play, but they need seniors to lead them," Alexander noted. "Whether it's experience, maturity, strength, you need seniors, and tonight, all the seniors that played, I just can't single one out, they all did a great job. Really proud of them."

The Railers are back in action tonight when they will play the first of the final four regular-season games as they welcome Mahomet-Seymour to Roy S. Anderson. The matchup with the Bulldogs is scheduled to begin at 7:30, with the sophomore game slated to go at 6. The Lincoln sophomores fell on Friday night 32-23.



Van Hook 5 1-1 12, Gesner 4 2-2 11, Kirby 3 0-0 9, Cook 2 5-5 9, Olson 1 0-0 3, Podbelsek 1 0-0 3, Eimer 0 1-2 1, Harris 0 1-2 1, Block 0 0-1 0, Heidbreder 0 0-0 0, Bowlby 0 0-0 0. Team 16 10-13 49. 3-point field goals 7 (Kirby 3, Podbelsek, Van Hook, Gesner, Olson).

SHG (30)

Eagleton 13, Lowis 8, Turner 4, N.Moscardelli 2, Aiello 2, Sestak 1. Team 12 2-5 30. 3-point field goals 4 (Eagleton 4).

Scoring by quarters:

LCHS    8-18-11-12  49
SHG       8- 6-13- 3   30

(Box score)


Decatur Regional schedule:

  • Feb. 27 , 7:30 p.m. -- No. 4 Mount Zion vs. No. 5 Bloomington

  • Feb. 28, 7 :30 p.m. -- No. 1 LINCOLN vs. winner of game 1

  • Feb. 29, 7:30 p.m. -- No. 2 Decatur MacArthur vs. No. 3 Decatur Eisenhower

  • March 2, 7:30 p.m. -- Winners of games 2 and 3 for regional championship


Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles

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