STM boys reach Elite Eight
DANVILLE — It had every element one wants in a boys’ basketball sectional championship game.
A raucous atmosphere.
A near-capacity crowd inside Mary Miller Gymnasium.
A back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes and seven ties.
Even celebrity sightings, although Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas and his wife Jeni — both in attendance — might disagree with that notion.
And the ending St. Thomas More wanted. The Sabers cut down the nets for a second straight Friday night after they outlasted St. Anne 90-86 in two overtimes during an instant classic. STM now will head to Redbird Arena — where the Sabers’ girls’ basketball team won a state title a week ago — to square off against Heyworth in a super-sectional game at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“It feels amazing, and we know we’re going to go down in history,” STM senior Mike Plecki said. “We’re going to try to keep it going and make it even better.”
The Sabers (22-7) are now elite for the first time. As in Elite Eight.
“It’s a testament to these seniors that have willed this team to what they’re doing now,” STM coach Matt Kelley said. “I feel great for them.”
Keaton Davis — a starter who barely played in the second half but was forced into action after two other STM starters, Kyler Jones and Storm Joop, fouled out in the overtime sessions — sealed the win. The senior guard sank two free throws with 8.1 seconds left to put the Sabers ahead 90-86.
“I just knew that (St. Anne has) good shooters, so I had to clinch both of them in case they hit a three,” Davis said. “I just took a deep breath and cleared my head. This is the best feeling.”
St. Anne sent the game into overtime when guard Rickey Taylor (26 points) nailed a three-pointer from the left wing with four seconds left to tie the game at 69.
“This is what high school basketball is all about,” St. Anne coach Rick Schoon said. “You’ve got two teams out there not wanting their seasons to end. Even though we lost, you’ve got to enjoy the spirit of the game and how the game was played.”
What Plecki did to the St. Anne defense was one aspect to enjoy. The left-handed-shooting forward scored 21 of his game-high 29 points after halftime, made 12 of 14 shots from the field and helped STM rally from an eight-point deficit, 37-29, late in the first half.
“We just kept fighting through adversity and came out on top,” Plecki said. “We knew we just had to keep it close. We knew if we did that, our guys would find a way to get the victory.”
Joop, who contributed 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists, fouled out with 1:20 left in the second overtime and the Sabers leading 85-81.
“I was over there chewing off the fingernails, but it was good to pull it out,” Joop said. “It’s always great to rewrite the record books. It was tough to keep our composure, but we hung in there throughout it all.”
Two freshmen, Clavin Davis (15 points) and Doug Wallen (12 points, eight rebounds), played key roles for STM. Clavin Davis battled cramps in the second overtime but hit a layup five seconds into that period to stake STM to an 81-79 lead. The Sabers did not trail again.
“Every time I went up to jump, my legs were hurting bad,” Clavin Davis said, “but it was wonderful to do this with our fans here.”
St. Anne had three players score at least 20 points. Octavious Davis (27 points, 12 rebounds) and Jeff Taylor (24 points, 12 rebounds) complemented Rickey Taylor’s superb night. But in the end, the Sabers were the ones celebrating.
“They’re probably one of the best teams we’ve played all year,” Kelley said. “Both teams played hard and the right way. This was fun.”
At Normal — Heyworth vs. St. Thomas More, 7 p.m.
At Carbondale — Dieterich vs. Sesser-Valier, 6 p.m.
At DeKalb — Lanard Eastland vs. Winner Serena Sectional, 6 p.m.
At Jacksonville — Mendon Unity vs. Waterloo Gibault Catholic, 7 p.m.