GIBSON CITY -- A familiar scene unfolded in Saturday's WGCY Radio Sangamon Valley Conference/Heart of Illinois Conference All-Star Game event's boys basketball game.
Less than a month ago, four SVC players -- Paxton-Buckley-Loda's Dalton Coplea, Cole Eshleman, Luke Fitton and Andrew Zenner -- helped their Panthers win a tightly-contested IHSA Class 2A regional championship game at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School -- the same place in which the all-star game was held.
“They had to get new nets because we cut them down," Coplea said.
The gymnasium was filled to capacity for the regional title game. For the all-star game, the crowd was at least somewhat similar in size.
“The crowd was pretty much the same. It just wasn't as loud this time," Fitton said. "I felt like today was easier than the regional. It was more laid-back and still a lot more fun.”
PBL won that regional title game 43-40 over host GCMS.
The all-star game was another one that came down to the final possession, with the SVC winning 69-67 over the HOIC.
“The atmosphere was pretty good tonight, but not as good as the regional championship game, but this game was still fun," Zenner said. "I'm never going to forget that regional championship game. It was an amazing experience. Coming back here and playing and getting another win feels good.”
“I've never been to the all-star game," Eshleman added. "It was fun. You get to see a lot of good players from the area competing against each other. It's fun to play — and watch, I assume.”
Eshleman, who finished the game with seven points, broke a 67-67 tie via a driving layup with less than 10 seconds remaining. Ridgeview's Tyler McCormick then shot a 3-point attempt that missed at the buzzer.
“That wasn't even designed for me, really," Eshleman said. "We were going to give it to Blake Graham from Dwight, but they double-teamed him because they knew that's what we were doing, and I had an opening. It was kind of long shot going against that 6-foot-7 kid, but I laid it up there, and it was lucky, I guess. It went in — I'll take it.”
Graham, who finished the game leading the SVC in scoring with 14 points, made two of his four game-total 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the first one to tie the game at 60-60 and the second to give the SVC a 63-60 lead with 2:57 remaining.
Fisher's Zach Griffith knotted the game at 63-63 with 2:43 left in the game with a 3-pointer for the HOIC. It was one of his three fourth-quarter treys.
The HOIC and SVC teams combined to make 10 3-pointers in the fourth quarter en route to combining to score 44 points in that final quarter.
“We got a decent amount of looks there and started pouring them in there in the fourth quarter," said Zenner, who made two of his three treys in the fourth quarter en route to finishing with nine points.
Watseka's Nathan Schroeder, who finished the game with 11 points, made a bucket to give the SVC a 65-63 lead.
PBL and Watseka were the class teams of their conference, as the Panthers won their first SVC regular-season title since 2012 and Watseka won the SVC Tournament championship.
"It was fun to play with those SVC conference guys. We've played against them the last few years. It was fun playing on the same team this time. It was a good game," Coplea said. “It was just fun. It was a good game."
“It was a great time," Zenner added. "Going up against them in the regular season, you know they're good players, so when you get them on your team, it feels good, especially when you come out and win.”
After Tremont's Conor Honan made a game-tying basket for the HOIC with 1:52 remaining, Eshleman scored a bucket off a Zenner defensive rebound with about a minute remaining to give the SVC a 67-65 lead.
El Paso-Gridley's Tucker Schlipf who scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, tied the game at 67-67 with a basket.
“It was a fun game. Coach (Chad) Cluver (of Watseka) had us playing hard," Coplea said. "They were playing hard, too. It was a fun game. It was fun to play against those guys one last time.”
With 44 seconds left in the third quarter, Fitton -- who finished with seven points -- drained a 3-pointer to extend the SVC's lead to 51-38 as the SVC ended the third quarter with a 51-41 advantage.
During the 2016-17 season, Fitton made only one 3-pointer -- a game-winning buzzer-beater in overtime at Watseka.
Along with the Panthers' regional title, they also won against St. Joseph-Ogden by a mere three points in the regional semifinals.
“Close games have been the story of the second half of the year, at least," Zenner said. "There were a lot of close games.”
The SVC outscored the HOIC 24-18 in the third quarter after leading 27-23 at halftime.
Schroeder started the third-quarter scoring with a 3-pointer off a Coplea assist before GCMS's Tucker Cribbett scored his lone two points for the HOIC to cut his squad's deficit to 30-25 before Watseka's Hunter Lee scored four of his eight points during a run that extended the SVC's lead to 34-27.
Ridgeview's Noah Young made a basket to make the score 34-29 before Iroquois West's Corey Schunke extend the SVC's lead back to seven with a bucket and two free throws with 4:06 left in the third quarter further extended the lead to 38-29.
After Flanagan-Cornell's Brian Albertson cut the HOIC's deficit to 38-32 with a 3-pointer, the SVC went on a 9-0 run as Eshleman scored on a fastbreak layup off a Graham assist, Fitton scored on an offensive-rebound putback, Graham hit a 3-pointer and Cissna Park's Tristen Kissack added a bucket.
In the first quarter, Deer Creek-Mackinaw's Nick DeBolt and Tremont's Max Bolliger each hit a 3-pointer to help give the HOIC a 13-9 lead before the SVC ended the quarter on an 8-0 run.
South Newton's Evan Stitz started the run with a 3-pointer before Graham made a go-ahead bucket and drained a trey off a Coplea defensive rebound with 4.3 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Fitton made two free throws with 7:46 left in the first quarter to extend the SVC's lead to 19-13.
With 9.8 seconds left in the second quarter, Coplea converted on a three-point play for his game-total three points, as he was fouled on his made layup by DeBolt, to extend the SVC's advantage to 27-20 before LeRoy's Brett Egan made a trey to cut the HOIC's deficit to 27-23 by halftime.
“I saw the big guy," Coplea said. "He started to try to use my body so he could block, and it ended up going in.”
The PBL foursome will be moving on to college athletics -- not in basketball, but in baseball.
Zenner signed to play baseball for John A. Logan College.
“I've been playing ever since I was really young. I'm not going to be able to play anymore," Zenner said. "It's sad, but that's life. You can't play forever.”
Coplea and Eshleman signed with Lindenwood College.
“I'm definitely going to miss it," Eshleman said. "I'll miss all my coaches and teammates — all the time I spent with them and all the memories. I'm excited about the future, too.”
“I'll always be an alumni (of PBL)," Coplea added. "I'll always be rooting for those guys.”
Fitton will play ball for Olney Central College.
“I'll miss playing basketball next year," Fitton said. "I'll miss being around the guys and everything. Hopefully, they'll have a good year next year.”
On the day of the all-star game, the PBL baseball team was scheduled to open its 2017 season at Ridgeview, but the game was canceled due to inclement weather.
The Panthers are scheduled to host Armstrong-Potomac at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
“It's a good feeling to come out and play one more time before baseball season takes over," Fitton said.
The dunk contest
Hunter Merritt of Tri-Valley won the SVC-HOIC All-Star Game's dunk contest prior to the boys' game.
Fitton was one of seven contestants.
“The first time, I just tried to get it down, and I missed. From there, I tried the lob to myself, and got it down there, but then I didn't get the one off the backboard," Fitton said. "Sometimes, I get them. Sometimes, I don't.”
The girls' game
The HOIC defeated the SVC 43-39 in overtime.
Alex Specht of Blue Ridge made a basket and a free throw in the final minute of regulation to give the HOIC team a 37-35 lead, but Grace Schroeder of Iroquois West tied the game with a jumper with 15 seconds remaining.
In the extra period, the HOIC outscored the SVC 6-2 as Gwen Lohr Fandel of Fieldcrest made a go-ahead 3-pointer.
Lohr-Fandel led the HOIC in scoring with 12 points while Specht added nine points.
Schroeder led the SVC with 12 points.
SVC 69, HOIC 67
SVC 17 10 24 18 — 69
HOIC 13 10 18 26 — 67
Tristen Kissack (Cissna Park) 1-0-2, Blake Graham (Dwight) 5-0-14, Corey Schunke (Iroquois West) 1-0-2, Dalton Coplea (PBL) 1-1-3, Cole Eshleman (PBL) 3-1-7, Luke Fitton (PBL) 2-2-7, Andrew Zenner (PBL) 3-0-9, Johnny Lanie (South Newton) 1-1-3, Evan Stitz (SN) 1-0-3, Craig Wheelock (SN) 0-0-0, Hunter Lee (Watseka) 4-0-8, Nathan Schroeder (Watseka) 3-4-11. Totals 25-9-69.
Tucker Cribbett (GCMS) 1-0-2, Conor Honan (Tremont) 2-0-4, Tyler McCormick (Ridgeview) 2-0-4, Tucker Schlipf (El Paso-Gridley) 5-2-16, Zach Griffith (Fisher) 4-0-11, Noah Young (Ridgeview) 1-0-2, Jordan Wagenbach (Tremont) 1-0-3, Nick DeBolt (Deer Creek-Mackinaw) 1-0-3, Max Bolliger (Tremont) 1-1-4, Brett Egan (LeRoy) 3-0-8, Hunter Merritt (Tri-Valley) 2-0-4, Andy Layden (EP-G) 0-0-0, Brian Albertson (Flanagan-Cornell) 2-0-6. Totals 25-3-67
3-pointers — SVC 10 (Graham 4, Zenner 3, Fitton, Schroeder, Stitz). HOIC 14 (Schlipf 4, Griffith 3, Albertson 2, Egan 2, Wagenbach, DeBolt, Bolliger).
HOIC 43, SVC 39 (OT)
SVC 10 9 6 12 2 -- 39
HOIC 3 11 7 16 6 -- 43
Josie Maul (Cissna Park) 0-0-0, Halle Long (Clifton Central) 0-0-0, Lauren Knake (CP) 1-0-3, Emery Podowicz (CC) 2-2-6, Rachel Dawson (Dwight) 2-1-5, Michelle Fehr (CP) 1-0-3, Tayler Fairley (Iroquois West) 0-0-0, Grace Schroeder (IW) 5-0-12, Sydney Beherns (CC) 3-0-6, Madison Bauer (Watseka) 0-2-2, Daisy Solorzano (W) 1-0-2. Totals 15-5-39
Skielyr Trenkle (LeRoy) 0-0-0, Gwen Lohr-Fandel (Fieldcrest) 4-0-12, Maegan Stone (El Paso-Gridley) 0-0-0, Rachael Quaritsch (FCW) 2-1-5, Samantha Lyons (FCW) 0-0-0, Jordyn Talley (Ridgeview) 2-0-5, Josie Grammer (Blue Ridge) 1-2-4, Claire Weers (Fieldcrest) 0-0-0, Lauren Hoselton (EP-G) 0-2-2, Ali Coley (Ridgeview) 1-0-2, Alex Specht (Blue Ridge) 3-2-9, Somer Marlett (Heyworth) 0-0-0, Brittney Enos (Fisher) 0-0-0, Kianna Klendworth (Fieldcrest) 1-1-3, Korbin Collins (FCW) 1-0-2. Totals 15-8-43.
3-pointers -- SVC 4 (Schroeder 2, Knake, Fehr). HOIC 5 (Lohr-Fandel 3, Talley, Specht).