PIASA — The East-Alton Wood River Oilers got their shovels out Wednesday in Piasa, but despite a valiant effort were unable to dig out of an early hole against the Southwestern Piasa Birds.
Southwestern raced out to a 14-0 lead in the semifinals of the Class 2A Southwestern Regional and never looked back in a 73-48 victory. The loss concluded the season for EA-WR at 12-18.
The No. 1 seeded Piasa Birds now await the winner of No. 2 Roxana and No. 3 Gillespie at 7 p.m. tonight. Tonight's winner and Southwestern will meet in the regional finals at 7 p.m. on Friday in Piasa.
EA-WR head coach Kyle Duncan had a game plan Wednesday and it was to contain Southwestern's 6-foot-6 twin towers of Collin Baumgartner and Tyler Rose. The Oilers came out in a zone defense, but quickly watched the Piasa Birds bury four straight 3-pointers to force them out of that zone. Two free throws by Baumgartner then pushed it 14-0 and EA-WR were never able to recover.
“I thought we had a brilliant plan,” Duncan said. “We were going to take away Rose and make them shoot outside shots and hope they had an off night and they had the exact opposite. They came out and hit four 3s in a row and pulled us out of our zone and we had to man up on them, which created matchup problems for us with Rose and Baumgartner. Overall it kind of took us out of our game and we had to run with them a little bit.”
On top of Southwestern raining 3s, the Piasa Birds supplied relentless pressure on the Oilers to start the game. When the buzzer sounded on the first quarter EA-WR found itself behind 14-2 with its only basket coming on a layup from Dillon Buck with 51.6 seconds left.
Southwestern head coach Jason Darr said the Piasa Birds had a plan too, and they were able to pull it off.
“Anytime a team packs it in like that you can run whatever offense you want, but you've got to hit outside shots. That's what it comes down to and we did,” Darr said. “We got them out of it early and that was our plan. We knew we were going to get some kind of zone and we fought on the offensive end and we knew we were going to get some kind of stall and we prepared for it for four days and our kids were ready to go.”
Overall, the Piasa Birds sank 10 3-pointers in the game from five different players. After Connor Robinson hit two and Andrew Fry and Blake Lawson each nailed one in the first quarter, Justin Bailey buried two treys to open the second quarter and catapulted Southwestern ahead 20-2.
The Oilers responded with an 8-0 run to cut it to 20-10 with Mike Stimac and Buck scoring baskets and Blake Marks hitting four free throws.
EA-WR valiantly tried to remain close, staying within 27-16 with 2:24 to play when Stimac buried two from the charity stripe, but the Birds rolled out a 6-0 run to end the half with a 33-16 advantage.
The Oilers came out in the second half with more energy on offense, highlighted by Marks bouncing an inbounds pass of a Southwestern player and then completing a traditional 3-point play. EA-WR outscored the Piasa Birds 19-18 in the third quarter, but still trailed 51-35 after three quarters.
Free throws fueled the Birds in the fourth quarter, hitting 11 of 13 and outscoring the Oilers 22-13 to round out what turned into a lopsided finish.
“I think in the second half we played better and we played with them even in the second quarter, but the problem was we got down enough we just couldn't battle back,” Duncan said.
Valiant efforts came from a pair of EA-WR seniors with Buck and Stimac pacing the Oilers with 14 points apiece. Marks joined them in double figures with 12 points.
Buck and Stimac, along with Zach Butkovich, Nic Daily and Austin Henry played in their final prep games on Wednesday.
“These guys are actually my first group of core kids to come through the program from freshmen to seniors and they've done nothing but work their butts off,” Duncan said. “They've done everything I've asked them to, they show up to everything from 5 a.m. workouts and it's sad to finally see them leave. You didn't think it would ever end, but when it's finally here it's kind of sad. They are going to be dearly missed.”
Duncan praised Buck and Stimac especially for their strong efforts against Southwestern.
“The last couple of weeks I can't say anything bad about Dillon Buck,” Duncan said. “He stepped up his game. His career high was 12 up to a week ago, but now he just keeps rising it. He had 14 tonight. The kid has been playing really well and I'm glad to finally see him come around.
“(Stimac) struggled for a couple games there, but he did come back tonight and he's had one heck of a career. He's done a lot of great things in his career and I'm glad to see him kind of end it on a high note even though it was a loss.”
Darr has the upmost respect for Duncan and the Oilers and praised their effort. He always welcomes playing the former South Central Conference rival.
“We respect the heck of that team and those kids and the work that they've done to get where they're at,” Darr said. “Coach Duncan does a great job with those guys and it's a battle every time we play them.”
Southwestern, which was led by Blake Lawson's game-high 24 points, will now await the winner from tonight. With Roxana and Gillespie each being SCC rivals, the Piasa Birds are very familiar with their upcoming opponent, no matter who it may be.
“We played them both. We played Gillespie two times, we played Roxana one time early in the season and they're both good basketball teams,” Darr said. “They've got shooters, they've got skill players and they'll defend and they're both well coached. It's just one of those things where we're just going to prepare our game plan and play our basketball and whoever our opponent is, is whoever our opponent is.”
CLASS 2A SOUTHWESTERN REGIONAL
SOUTHWESTERN 73, EA-WR 48
EA-WR 2 14 19 13 — 48
Southwestern 14 19 18 22 — 73
EA-WR — Blake Marks 12, Zach Butkovich 3, Dillon Buck 14, Mike Stimac 14, Joel Biesk 2, Austin Henry 3. 2FG — 9 3FG — 4 FT — 16 PF — 18
SOUTHWESTERN — Andrew Fry 10, Blake Lawson 24, Connor Robinson 10, Tyler Rose 6, Collin Baumgartner 4, Justin Bailey 11, Zack Seymour 5, Ben Lowis 2, Grahm Bachman 1. 2FG — 12 3FG — 10 FT — 19 PF — 17