- Our Sites
- The News-Gazette
- NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM
- Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS
- 107.9 WKIO
- Community News
RANTOUL – The PBL eighth-grade boys' basketball team walked into Rantoul J.W. Eater Junior High School Thursday with an undefeated record of 17-0.
Although the Panthers did not return to Paxton with their record unblemished, as the Bulldogs edged PBL 55-50, head coach Jeff Sinn said his team picked up a different kind of victory.
“If there’s such a thing as a moral victory, I think we had one tonight,” Sinn said. “This team is good. If there’s a team in the area that’s probably the best, I would say Rantoul, by far, is the best team in the area, but if there’s a second-best, it’s us right now. I’m so proud of our guys. We hung in there and we executed our game plan.”
Eater (17-2) showcased its superior talent and size on the first score of the game, as Onycai Lawson dunked the ball through the hoop to give his team a 2-0 lead.
Despite the dunk, Sinn said his team never went into panic mode. The Panthers showed their perseverance, as Cole Eshleman and Dalton Coplea each hit a 3-pointer to give PBL leads of 3-2 and 6-4, respectively.
“We didn’t get out of control,” Sinn said. “They dunked on us. Some teams might panic in that situation. I guess the key thing tonight is we just did not panic, and we executed our game plan and what we set out to do.”
After a Coplea basket tied the game at 8-8, Eater went on a 5-0 run over the past 1:28 of the first quarter to go into the second leading 13-8. The Bulldogs proceeded to outscore PBL 16-12 in the second quarter to go into halftime leading 29-20.
The Panthers responded with a hot half from long range. In a 15-7 run that cut Eater’s lead to 36-35, Eshleman sank two 3-pointers and Andrew Zenner drained three shots from beyond the arc.
PBL finished the game making 10 3-point shots. Eshleman and Zenner drained four from downtown while Coplea hit two from 3-point range.
“We played with what they gave us. They were giving us that shot, and we took it,” Sinn said. “It comes down to execution. If we don’t execute, we’re not in that situation. I know I told them in the locker room it’s not just those six or seven guys that got in tonight. We don’t get to this point in the year without the other guys on the team. If we don’t have guys that are practicing hard and giving guys all their money, we’re not here right now. The sky’s the limit right now. If we can come out like this every game, look out.”
Despite the long-range game, PBL traied 45-37 after the third quarter as the Bulldogs’ Kevontae Williams scored eight of his team-high eight points in the quarter.
Eshleman finished with a game-high 20 points. Zenner and Coplea added 16 and 12 points, respectively, while Ryley Foellner contributed two points.
“We had guys step up tonight,” Sinn said. “I thought they did a pretty good job on Dalton Coplea, but overall, we had guys step up all night. Looking back at it, we’re probably one 6-foot-2 guy away from competing with those guys all game long.”
The Panthers did pick up a victory Tuesday, Jan. 8, defeating Prairie Central 36-33.
The PBL eighth-graders, along with the seventh-graders, will host its regular-season finale at 6 p.m. Thursday against St. Joseph Middle School.
The eighth-graders will then compete in the six-team Onarga Iroquois West Regional with Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Hoopeston Area, Iroquois West, Urbana University and Watseka Glenn Raymond. The winner of this regional will advance to the Paxton Sectional, which will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6.
“I’m assuming we’ll probably get the No. 1 seed,” Sinn said. “It’s a winnable regional. We beat GCMS. We beat (Iroquois West). I think we can hang in there with any of them. We just have to come out and play our style of basketball.”
The PBL seventh-graders walked out of Rantoul with a victory, improving their record to 8-11 with a 36-21 victory over Eater two days after losing 37-28 to Prairie Central.
“It was a good win,” PBL head coach Steve Waugh said. “We’ve had some tough ones in a row in a pretty tough schedule, so it’s always nice to face a Rantoul club and get a win. We did some good things. There’s still some things to work on. The execution wasn’t the best tonight, but I guess it’s just good to sneak out of here with a win going into the end of the season.”
Jaxson Coplea led the way for PBL with 14 points. Austin Potter added six points.
“Jaxson Coplea was very aggressive tonight,” Waugh said. “I’ve kind of been preaching over the last portion of the season finishing. We’ve had a rough time. It seems like we get to the basket and get good looks, but we’re not strong and we don’t finish. This week in practice, we really worked on taking some contact and finishing by the rim. In fact, I brought out some of the football pads and gave them little bumps. He had to be strong, and he did a good job of finishing by the hoop tonight, and that really carried us and gave us the momentum to get a victory tonight.”
After its Thursday home matchup against St. Joseph, PBL will be in the Class 3A Onarga Iroquois West Regional with GCMS, Hoopeston Area, Iroquois West and Watseka Glenn Raymond.
“We’re going into regionals,” Waugh said. “Hopefully, we can get some momentum next week. We’ve got a long week of practices, and I am excited about the postseason.”