WOOD RIVER — Playing in their own backyard, the Roxana Shells came out with tons of energy Wednesday in the Class 2A East Alton-Wood River Sectional semifinals. Unfortunately it wasn't enough, as the Shells fell 61-44 to Pinckneyville to see their magical run come to an end.
Roxana ended its season at 16-16 with the loss, while the Panthers improved to 25-6 with the win. They advance to play Mater Dei in the sectional title tilt at 7 p.m. on Friday at EA-WR.
The Shells erupted out to a 17-7 lead to start the game much to the liking of the local contingent in the stands. They bottled the energy from back-to-back overtime wins in the Southwestern Regional and had brought it to Wood River. It looked like another dramatic win could be in the cards, but in the end it wasn't the case.
That energy and maturity is what has head coach Mark Briggs raving about his squad though.
“Our kids compete hard in every second of every game and that's how we ended up in this spot right here,” Briggs said. “It's because of guts and the effort we put forth.
“Our kids learned how to play with each other and play to their strengths. They understood what their roles were. Everybody on our team the last eight games of the season they realized what their limitations were and what their strengths were. (Trace) Gentry learned to play through adversity and he never stopped working tonight and the kids keep working to get the ball to him too. It's been a great team effort. Our team chemistry has been great and we have all these kids back next year.”
Pinckneyville' Nolan Luke opened the game with a 3-pointer, but Gentry answered immediately with his own trey to knot it at 3-3.
A bucket by Gentry, a trey from Zachary Golenor and two free throws from Chance Foss pushed it to 10-3 in favor of Roxana. When Gentry nailed another 3-pointer at the 1:03 mark, the Shells led 17-7. They owned a 17-11 edge at the close of the first quarter.
“The first quarter they came out and competed really well, maybe their best quarter of the year and really put us on our heels,” Pinckneyville head coach Bob Waggoner said. “The second quarter we adjusted a little bit defensively, held them to four (points) and got the lead back.”
Roxana was up 21-17 with four minutes remaining in the first half when the Panthers came to life.
A basket by Brian Taylor spurred a 9-0 run to close the half for Pinckneyville, pushing the Panthers ahead 26-21 at the break. Luke's 3-pointer in the final seconds was a big booster for Pinckneyville.
“The big play right before the half, Luke hit the three and really gave us momentum,” Waggoner said. “We started the third quarter and really started to push things and just felt like we settled in defensively.”
The Shells mounted a valiant effort at comeback in the third quarter though. A trey by Golenor cut it 28-27 at the 7:15 mark and then a Gentry 3-pointer got it to 33-32 with 3:48 to play in the frame, but another big spurt from the Panthers put the game out of reach.
Taylor jump started a 13-1 run at the 3:14 mark on a transition basket after a steal. When the third quarter closed Pinckneyville owned a comfortable 48-36 lead.
The Shells were never able to cut it under 10 points again as the Panthers outscored them 13-8 in the fourth quarter.
Luke was the catalyst in the win for Pinckneyville, pouring in a game-high 27 points. Roxana didn't have an answer for him.
“(Luke) was a game changer,” Briggs said.
Waggoner added, “He was just fantastic offensively. He really led us. He's very offensive minded and they didn't have an answer for him. They went to a triangle-and-2 for part of the game, they went to a box-and-1 for part of the game and then they went back and shaded him with a straight face guard. He's a senior and he's been through the wars and tonight really showed his leadership.”
Taylor complemented him by joining him in double figures with 10 points.
Roxana was led by Golenor's 12 points on four 3-pointers. Gentry also reached double digits with 11 points. Randy Skiff, eight points, Foss, seven points and Blake Vandiver, six points, also contributed offensively for the Shells.
Only Skiff and Shawn Porter graduate from the program, so Briggs is excited about the future. The maturation of players like Foss and Vandiver, who contributed in the clutch during the regional, along with Gentry's progression have him ready to see what's in store in '15-16.
“(Foss and Vandiver) both started playing with confidence,” Briggs said. “They started as sophomores, so these kids have been battle tested and it's neat to see them get to this point here. Nobody expected us to get here and now the goals can be set a little higher next year. These kids are going to work hard. They're not going to take this for granted. We didn't come in here satisfied, we wanted to win this game. Against Teutopolis a few years ago I felt like our kids were just happy to be there, these guys were hungry and we really wanted this one bad.”
CLASS 2A EA-WR SECTIONAL
PINCKNEYVILLE 61, ROXANA 44
Pinckneyville 11 15 22 13 — 61
Roxana 17 4 15 8 — 44
ROXANA (16-16) — Trace Gentry 11, Zachary Golenor 12, Randy Skiff 8, Chance Foss 7, Blake Vandiver 6. 2FG — 7 3FG — 8 FT — 6
PINCKNEYVILLE (25-6) — Brian Taylor 10, Nolan Luke 27, Tyler Rulevish 3, Tristan Fisher 5, Adam Banach 2, Sam Simpson 6, Clayton Hougland 8. 2FG — 21 3FG — 4 FT — 7