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PAXTON — Ford County foes Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley will meet again in the first round of the Clifton Central Regional.
For now, however, the Panthers have the bragging rights after Drew Schrodt found a wide-open Axl Denault for a game-winning layup with less than 10 seconds remaining en route to a 37-35 victory.
“We were concerned about Schrodt, so we jumped on the pick-and-roll thinking he would hit something over the top, and he made a nice play to hit (Denault) rolling,” GCMS head coach Ryan Tompkins said. “It looked similar to the shot the Illini won off of (Thursday).”
PBL (14-11) scored the game-winning basket after Jay Eshleman made a steal on an inbounds pass.
“We had a big defensive steal at the end of the game where Jay made a great steal on an inbounds play,” PBL head coach Scot Vogel said. “The kids executed well (on the ensuing offensive play). Drew made a great read. It was either look for Axl or see if you can get to the lane. (GCMS) doubled (Schrodt), and Drew made a good read on it. Axl rolled to the rim, and we were able to convert out of it. Hat’s off to the kids for converting in a pressure situation.”
Denault’s clutch layup ended a 20-11 second-half run that saw the Falcons (7-17) take a 28-26 lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter and tie the game at 35-35 with little more than three minutes remaining.
“I thought our kids played really hard and did a good job. I thought we executed and did some very good things at both ends of the floor,” Tompkins said. “I was very happy with our kids’ perseverance to fight back two different times in that second half. I really appreciate our kids’ effort and heart. It’s not easy to come into this environment and play like we did.”
En route to a 26-26 tie going into the fourth quarter, PBL scored only two points in the third.
“We just went ice-cold in the second half there,” Vogel said. “We were getting shots. We just couldn’t get anything to fall. I was proud of our kids for overcoming that adversity where you don’t shoot well and you struggle against a big rival and you still find a way to win. That’s good for our kids.”
After GCMS took an early 4-0 lead, Schrodt tied the game on a four-point play, which triggered an 11-0 run.
“I thought that (four-point play) gave us the momentum and a pep in our step,” Vogel said. “We played pretty thorough there in the first half and hit some shots.”
Johnny Walder — who finished with a team-high nine points for PBL — hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter to extend his team’s lead to 24-15. The freshman also sank another trey to give PBL a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter.
“We’re starting to have different guys step up,” Vogel said. “I thought Johnny was big. That’s the type of player that he is. He’s got no fear. He’s young. He’s going to make mistakes, but at the same time, he plays with a lot of fearlessness. He can shoot and do some different things offensively and defensively, and tonight, we benefited from that. I thought that was a great experience for him.”
For GCMS, Nick Retherford scored a team-high 10 points while Ben Eads added nine points.
The Panthers and Falcons will face each other in regionals as the No. 4 and No. 5 seed, respectively, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“The good thing is we know we didn’t play our best basketball for a full game,” Vogel said. “They’re a solid team. We’ve got to make sure we play the right way against them, but knowing you didn’t play as well as you could have and you still were able to came out with a win gives you some confidence. Hopefully, we can carry that over.”
“A lot of things happen between now and then,” Tompkins added. “We’ve just got a couple more games to try and prepare ourselves for the postseason. We’ve got to make the most of it.”
PBL 37, GCMS 35
Drake Royal 0-0-0, Nick Retherford 3-2-10, T.J. Roesch 0-0-0, Ross Royal 1-0-3, Ben Eads 4-1-9, Aaron Thomason 0-0-0, Reese Simpson 2-0-4, Axel Doran 1-0-3, Wiley Hasty 3-0-6. Totals 14-3-35.
Jay Eshleman 1-0-3, Tyler Rubarts 2-3-8, Weston Weber 2-0-4, Axl Denault 1-1-3, Jeremy Walder 1-0-2, Drew Schrodt 2-3-8, Johnny Walder 3-0-9, Kyler Swanson 0-0-0, Patrick Brown 0-0-0. Totals 12-7-37.
GCMS 10 5 11 9 — 35
PBL 16 8 2 11 — 37
3-pointers — GCMS 4 (Retherford 2, R. Royal, Doran). PBL 6 (Jo. Walder 3, Eshleman, Rubarts, Schrodt).