NORMAL — It ended, for the St. Thomas More boys’ basketball team, at the exact location where the school’s girls played their season finale.
Tuesday’s game for the Sabers was a much less joyous occasion for STM than it was 10 days earlier when the girls won the state championship.
Heyworth overcame a six-point deficit in the final 6 minutes, 40 seconds and handed St. Thomas More a 72-62 Class 1A super-sectional loss at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena.
STM (23-8) fell one win short of its first state trophy in boys’ basketball.
“We’ve had close games in the postseason that we were able to win at the end,” senior Mike Plecki said. “This time, we were on the losing end.
“We tried to continue to do what we did, but we couldn’t end on top at the end of the day. It stings.”
It was a back-and-forth contest in which Heyworth scored first. STM led by the midway mark of the first quarter but trailed after the opening eight minutes.
By halftime, STM was ahead by three points, but the Hornets took control in the third period before the Sabers matched their biggest lead, 50-44, on a shot in the lane by Joel Yumba with 6:53 remaining.
“It was a great season overall,” Storm Joop said. “We worked our tails off to get here, not just the starters, but everyone gave everything they had. It was a lot of fun, and this was a well-fought game. You can’t ask for a better game.”
Heyworth (25-7) went ahead with an 8-0 run, but the Sabers created a final tie, 52-52, on an 8-foot shot by Doug Wallen with 4:39 to play.
“They made a lot of shots and kept running and wore us out,” Plecki said.
Heyworth’s accuracy wasn’t just restricted to 56.3 percent from the field, a figure boosted by making 9 of 12 fourth-quarter shots. The Hornets nailed 10 of 13 final-period free throws as well.
“In this kind of game, free throws make the difference,” STM coach Matt Kelley said.
In the final 21/2 minutes, a basket by Wallen and a free throw by Wallen accounted for all of the STM points.
“We were not able to hit that key shot,” Kelley said. “We got good looks. We were in position. We did everything right. They didn’t go down.”
Wallen and Plecki shared the scoring lead for the Sabers with 15 points apiece. Joop added 11 points to go with a team-high five assists.
“They found a way to pull ahead, and we didn’t,” Joop said.
“The coaches were great, and my teammates were great to play with,” Plecki said. “This was such a close-knit group.”
A key call went in the Hornets’ favor with 2:22 to go. Kaleb Marr was credited for a basket on a goaltending call in which sideline observers thought the ball was not above the rim. That basket expanded a 60-59 Heyworth lead, and STM was not able to reduce its deficit to less than three points thereafter.
Plecki, Joop, Kyler Jones and Keaton Davis were the four St. Thomas More seniors who ended their prep basketball careers Tuesday.
“They took us places we’ve never been before,” Kelley said. “They’ve set the bar.
“It has been so much fun to watch how this group has come together and how they’ve grown up over the last two years. We’ve had a great season.”
Jones tied Wallen for the team lead in steals with four. Davis scored five points, including a three-pointer that lifted STM into a 19-17 second-quarter lead.
At halftime, all 33 STM points were scored by the starters, and each one had at least five points.
STM’s 23 wins ties the second-best mark in school history. The 2009-10 team also won 23 games. The single-season record for wins (29-4) was established by the 2003-04 squad.
“It wasn’t our night,” Plecki said, “but it was a fun run and a fun season.”