Warriors barely defeat Hiltoppers in holiday tournament championship
By Jackson Wilson
The sleeping giant has awakened!
After a 17-year absence from the Carlinville holiday basketball tournament spotlight, the Calhoun Warriors returned to the floor at the Big House on West Main in the most triumphant way possible. Due to two additional teams being added to the boys’ basketball field, a bracket was used instead of the traditional pool play format. Despite being assigned a fourth seed, the resilient Warriors found a way to grind out wins in three consecutive instant classics – 50-47 over Staunton, 73-67 against top-seeded Litchfield and a 62-57 championship conquest over second seed Hillsboro, who was appearing in the big game for a third consecutive season.
“Coming in with that draw against Staunton in that first game, I knew we had our hands full. They’ve got a heck of a team and they are much better than a five seed in my opinion. Of course, then you go to face Litchfield with Sam Painter – who is one of the best players I’ve coached against and I’ve been doing this for a long time. Then, coming into the championship with the athletes and overall physicality that Hillsboro brought, I knew we had our hands full,” said Calhoun head coach Ryan Graner out of respect to his opponents.
After an evenly matched first quarter, the Warriors seemed to be wrapping up the title early. After all, they owned a 35-18 advantage as the game was heading to halftime. Calhoun outscored Hillsboro 19-5 in the second, while forcing five turnovers in the process.
With four minutes to play in the third, Drew Baalman sunk one of his two three-pointers on the night – extending the Warrior the lead to 41-21 and forcing Hillsboro head coach Joe Vanzo to take a timeout. This initiated a slow and steady climb for the Hiltoppers. All of a sudden, the Hillsboro defense amped up the intensity, causing fits and frustration for the Calhoun offense down the stretch. Examples included shooting struggles, excessive fouls and an unbearable amount of turnovers. This lead to a massive 36-21 turnaround that barely fell short of a historical comeback.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Calhoun players, coaches and fans rejoiced while breathing a huge sigh of relief as they claimed their first holiday tournament title since 2006.
“We were fortunate to get the lead that we had early. I knew that it was far from over and it showed when they came roaring back,” Graner said of the Hiltoppers.
“I think we were faced with a ton of adversity throughout the game. Our two main offensive weapons – one went down with an injury on the second possession and didn’t play the rest of the game. Our leading scorer picked up two early fouls, which is always a factor but it’s an even bigger factor against a team that has so much size like Calhoun. Our kids never quit, they kept playing, they showed a lot of fight, lot of heart and they gave us a shot. That’s really all we could ask for with the hole that we dug early in the game,” stated Vanzo.
Baalman and Corey Nelson led the Warriors in points with 18 and 17 respectively. Trevor Johnson added 10 big tallies, including two big free throws that put the game out of reach in the closing seconds. Keaton Pruett led the Hiltoppers with 19 points, with Jordan Gregg (11) and Landon Carroll (10) also provided some solid offense. With the win, Calhoun improves to 8-2. Hillsboro falls to 8-7 in defeat.
Ben Eberlin (Calhoun), Baalman, Nelson, Pruett and Gregg were all honored as all-tournament team members at the conclusion of the game. Other all-tournament team members included Ethan Booth (Staunton), Painter (Litchfield) and Addis Moore (Southwestern).
Seventh Place Game – Carlinville 55, Gillespie 53 – December 29
For the first time in the 2018-19 season, the Carlinville basketball Cavaliers sqared off against arch-rival Gillespie in a game that was titled as ‘rather sloppy’ due to mediocre offense and endless amounts of turnovers. With the 55-53 triumph, the Cavies finished seventh out of ten teams in the holiday tournament and have now won three of their last five since starting 0-7. Prior to this contest, Carlinville defeated Mt. Olive 64-46 before dropping the next two matches to Litchfield (55-35) and Staunton (52-43).
“Against Litchfield, we only shot 24% from the field and the next game wasn’t much better. Our defensive intensity has been a lot better and more consistent. We just got to find a way to score or find some guys that can score on a consistent basis,” said Carlinville head coach Alan Cooper.
Michael Byots put up 11 points and Jarrett Easterday had 10 as well. In addition, Briley Roper, Aiden Naugle and Will Walton all scored eight apiece. Anthony Kravanya led the Miners with 19 points in the losing effort.
The Cavaliers will head to Staunton for a conference rematch on Friday. This will be Carlinville’s first road game since a 58-53 loss at Carrollton on Dec. 10. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Day 1 – December 26
Carlinville 64, Mt. Olive 46 – The Cavaliers took a 35-18 lead into the halftime locker room and recieved double figure scoring production from three different players – Easterday (14), Roper (12) and Logan Rosentreter (11).
Gillespie 60, Bunker Hill 52 – The Minutemen fell behind 21-9 early but managed to pull within five points after the third quarter. Frankie Barrett tallied 18 points and Alex Ottersburg chalked up 17 of his own to help the Miners avoid an early first round upset.
Calhoun 50, Staunton 47 – Despite free throw struggles and a missed layup in the closing stretch of the game, the Warriors survived and dethroned the defending Carlinville Holiday Tournament champions. Nelson (13), Eberlin (11), Baalman (11) and Hart (10) all scored in double figures for Calhoun in the victory.
Southwestern 50, East-Alton Wood River 41 – The Piasa Birds busted a 28-28 tie with a dominant 22-13 run in the fourth quarter – sealing the first upset of the tournament and handing the Oilers their eighth consecutive loss. Sophomore star Addis Moore led the Southwestern pursuit with 24 points.
Day 2 – December 27
Staunton 57, Bunker Hill 47 – Booth (19) and Dylan Hemann (12) combined for 31 total points. Cylix Cox added 11 points and Devin Ray knocked down three shots from long range.
East-Alton Wood River 50, Mt. Olive 49 – Zion Adams ignited the Oilers by putting up 24 points on eight made field goals. With less than a second remaining in a 49-49 game, Reggie Newtall drew a shooting foul and split the free throws, giving the Oilers the win and ending an eight-game skid. Quinton Kosowski reached 28 points for the Wildcats in the loss.
Litchfield 55, Carlinville 35 – The Purple Panthers’ defense held the Cavaliers’ offense to 24 percent from the field.
Hillsboro 63, Gillespie 48 – Gregg put up 18 points. Pruett scored 16, with five points coming on technical free throws. Nic Ondrey added 12 points and Landon Carroll etched 10 into the stat sheet. The Miners’ coaching staff recieved three technical fouls and an ejection in the second quarter.
Day 3 – December 28
Staunton 52, Carlinville 43 – For the second consecutive day, the duo of Booth (14) and Hemann (11) dominated the frontcourt with 25 combined points and powered the Bulldogs to another victory in the consolation bracket.
Bunker Hill 61, Mt. Olive 58 – The Minutemen didn’t dissapoint in making their first win of the season a memorable one. The Wildcats opened up a 30-19 halftime lead only to watch it dissinagrate into thin air. Devin Ralston put up 22 points. Trey Pickerill scored 17 and Jacob Weidner reached 16 points in the ninth place thriller.
Calhoun 73, Litchfield 67 – In what was viewed by many fans as the game of the week, the Warriors rode the 32-point hot hand of Baalman to an upset of Painter and the Purple Panthers to punch their ticket to Saturday night’s title match. Painter put up 36 points in defeat – the highest number scored by a single player in this year’s tournament.
Hillsboro 56, Southwestern 38 – Addis Moore scored 17 points in the first half to keep the Piasa Birds afloat, but the Hiltoppers limited his touches in the second half and cruised into their third consecutive championship game. Moore finished with 27 points on the night.
East-Alton Wood River 50, Gillespie 42 – Behind 18 points from Newtall and 14 points from Andrew Raymond, the Oilers held off the Miners and earned the right to play for fifth place.
Day 4 – December 29
Staunton 55, East-Alton Wood River 32 – Booth solidified his all-tournament team status with 19 points. Cylis Cox found his rhythm, hitting on three triples and posting 13 points. The Bulldogs outscored the Oilers 33-10 in the second and third quarters combined – en route to an easy 55-32 fifth place win that avenged a loss the Oilers handed the Dogs in Alton on Dec. 4.
Litchfield 58, Southwestern 54 – Despite a 34-point fourth quarter tirade by the Piasa Birds, the Purple Panthers made a 20-point lead barely stick and left the tournament on a high note – third place. Painter piled up 21 points and Brady Bishop provided a 12-point spark at the guard position.
Briley Roper dribbles the ball during Saturday’s game against Gillespie in the Carlinville Holiday Tournament. Photo by Jan Dona.
Senior Will Walton goes up for two-points against Staunton during the Holiday Tournament. Photo by Cory Walton.