DECATUR – It was a game with a postseason atmosphere. The stands were packed and the play was physical as 14th-ranked Monticello proved to be the better team down the stretch and outlasted No. 13 Warrensburg-Latham 62-56 on Tuesday night in the semifinals of the Okaw Valley Conference tournament at St. Teresa High School.
"We want to be experienced playing in big-game situations," Sages coach Kevin Roy said. "I wanted to make sure they enjoyed the atmosphere and prepared themselves for the postseason as well."
Monticello (18-2) faces top-ranked Maroa-Forsyth on Friday in the finals.
The Sages got off to a slow start, scoring six points in the first quarter. But a little rousing from Roy got the Monticello players going.
"Coach fired us up in the timeout at the end of the first quarter," said senior Ryan Koncel, who scored 13 points. "(Roy) told us that they wanted it more than us, and we just came out and we wanted it after that."
It was a back-and-forth affair for the next two quarters with seven lead changes, three ties and neither team leading by more than six points.
Then came what might have been the game's biggest play.
The Cardinals' Zack Boyd, who finished with 19 points, scored on a three-point play to cut the deficit to 44-41 with 7:27 left in the fourth quarter. W-L's fullcourt press seemed to have caused a 10-second violation, but the referee on the sideline whistled that Roy called for a timeout prior to the turnover.
Monticello retained possession and went on to score three consecutive times to blow open the game and take a 50-41 lead with 5:36 to play.
The Cardinals (17-3), who struggled to find anyone that could help Dillon Binkley (22 points) and Boyd on the offensive end, never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
"When we lost that jump ball – and that was a good timeout for them – we lost a little momentum," W-L coach Victor Binkley said. "It was either a 10 second or a jump ball, because nobody really had possession."
The Sages had a balanced attack with four players scoring in double figures, led by Nathan Swarts (14 points). Curtis Leischner added 12 points off the bench.
"We really take heart in our ball movement and our teamwork," Koncel said. "We've got five scorers and even more scorers off the bench that can put the ball in the hole."
Monticello got the biggest contribution from guard Trever Drake, who had a huge second half.
After Monticello turned the ball over on four of its first six possessions after halftime, Drake took over. The junior scored eight of his 11 points in the third quarter.
Then in the fourth quarter, Drake got his teammates involved with beautiful no-look and behind-the-head passes, chalking up four of his seven assists in the final quarter. Drake also added three steals while playing all 32 minutes.
"I've told him before, it's like he's got lasers on that ball," Roy said. "When he passes it sometimes, it's like a guided missile. He just puts it wherever he wants it.
"Having him be able to penetrate into the seam and be able to pull up and hit the jump shot or find the open man was huge."