Late run propels SJ-O to SVC title again

CHAMPAIGN ­­— For the fourth time this season, the St. Joseph-Ogden and Cissna Park boys’ basketball teams met.

And for the fourth time, St. Joseph-Ogden emerged with a victory. Even though the Timberwolves had to make the Spartans work for this one.

SJ-O outlasted Cissna Park 60-57 in overtime to claim the Sangamon Valley Conference tournament championship for the second straight year on Saturday night at Parkland College.

“All of them have been special to us,” SJ-O head coach Brian Brooks said. “We just have so much respect for their basketball program. They have a great team. I don’t know if any one has been more important than the other. If you would have told us before the season that we’d play them four times this year, I’d have though each of us would be 2-2.”

Two of the first three games between the two schools — Dec. 21 during the Leader Classic championship game in St. Joseph and Jan. 18 in Cissna Park ­­— were determined by a combined 11 points, while SJ-O won 61-44 during the State Farm Classic in Bloomington on Dec. 28. This one was even closer.

“We talked about the fact that the other three games were done and over with,” Brooks said. “We were just focusing on tonight. They stood between us and a conference tournament championship. Neither team deserved to lose the game. We were really, really fortunate to come out with the win.”

Cissna Park rallied in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 51 and force overtime. But SJ-O guard Nate Michael scored six of his eight points in the extra four-minute session, including a 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line.

“He hit some big free throws,” Brooks said. “That was really huge. He was struggling a bit from the field with his shot and really came up when he needed to.”

Brent Schluter led SJ-O with 18 points and junior guard Dalton Walsh produced off the bench with 13 points.

“I thought Walsh was outstanding,” Brooks said. “He hit some clutch shots for us in both halves and really guarded well. He showed a lot of maturity.”

The Timberwolves trailed 45-37 at the start of the fourth quarter before Ben Jennings hit two of his three three-pointers in the game en route to 13 points, all of which came in the second half. Alex Rabe led the Timberwolves with a game-high 19 points while Cole Hasselbring produced 16 points.

SJ-O and Cissna Park will not play again this year. While Brooks enjoys the challenge Cissna Park has presented to his 21-2 team this season, he’s OK with not seeing the Timberwolves until next year.

“We’re probably both tired of each other,” Brooks said with a laugh. “Both teams have a lot of respect for each other. We’d rather just play somebody else at this point. I see them having a great run in the postseason in Class 1A. Hopefully we can play just as well in 2A.”

Clifton Central 43, St. Thomas More 41. The Sabers could not overcome a 32-27 deficit to start the fourth quarter before suffering the narrow two-point loss during the third-place game. Mike Plecki poured in 10 of his game-high 14 points in the second half, while Kevin Carroll also finished in double figures with 11 points.

PBL 46, Iroquois West 38. Tyler Rubarts scored a team-high 14 points to help the Panthers pull away from Iroquois West in the fifth-place game. PBL trailed 18-14 at halftime before outscoring the Raiders 18-10 in the third quarter. Drew Schrodt (eight points) and Jay Eshleman (seven points) complemented Rubarts’ solid play. Keaton Zirkle (15 points) and Austin Zirkle (10 points) paced Iroquois West.

Momence 51, Watseka 50. Watseka jumped out to a 20-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Warriors found themselves trailing 42-35 to start the fourth quarter of the seventh-place game. Jake Lyznicki tallied a team-high 13 points for Watseka to finish as the squad’s only scorer in double figures. Gabe Duby finished with eight points while Austin Blair and Justin Moyer scored seven points apiece.

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