SPARTA — Free-throw woes cost the Sparta Bulldogs on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs missed four of their final five free throws and Pinckneyville wiped out a seven-point deficit in the third quarter and defeated Sparta 45-44 in the semifinals of the Class 2A Sparta Regional.
"I wish we had made more free throws when we had to. That's all," Bulldogs coach Jeff Bowlby said. "You know, sitting on the bench, when you're missing and when you're not. When the game's on the line, that's when you need to nail them.
"But give (Pinckneyville) credit. They made enough plays in the third quarter to overcome the deficit. That's who they are. They're a good basketball program. But I'm not going to fault my kids. My kids played their guts out."
The second-seeded Panthers (20-10) defeated Sparta for the third time this season and advanced to the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday against top-seeded Nashville (22-7), which dismantled Du Quoin 61-29 in the other semifinal.
Nashville defeated Pinckneyville twice in the regular season: 41-34 on Dec. 21 in Pinckneyville and 57-31 on Feb. 8 in Nashville.
Senior Philip Lockhart, a transfer from East St. Louis, led Sparta with 15 points. Sophomore Seth Ferguson had 14 points and senior Aaron Rushing had eight.
"Two good ballclubs going at it who know each other very well," said Pinckneyville coach Bob Waggoner, whose team trailed 11-3 with two minutes to play in the first quarter. "It just came down to a couple of plays that different kids made. We were fortunate that we made a few more than they did toward the end."
Senior Dylan Hardin and sophomore Tristan Fisher scored 15 points apiece to lead Pinckneyville. Fisher's driving layup with 2:19 to play gave the Panthers the lead for good at 39-37.
Two free throws by senior Chris Priebe put Pinckneyville on top 43-38 with 49.8 seconds to play, but Ferguson popped a long 3-pointer to bring the Bulldogs within 43-41 with 38 seconds left.
After Hardin missed a free throw, Sparta called timeout with 25.9 seconds left. Junior Henry Dudek then missed a fallaway jumper and Fisher was fouled with 10.7 seconds remaining.
Fisher sank both free throws to make it 45-41. Ferguson followed with another deep 3 with five seconds left, but the Bulldogs were out of timeouts and the clock expired.
"Tristan Fisher played a fantastic game, not only offensively, but defensively," Waggoner said. "And Dylan came through big for us on a couple of made shots to give us our lead."
Pinckneyville trailed 22-15 at halftime, but doubled its offensive output in the second half.
"It was a matter of pushing the ball," Waggoner said. "We noticed on film that their transition defense wasn't very good, that they go to the offensive glass and give you some outlets and runouts. We thought we could get them out in the open floor and get some easy baskets."
Nashville 61, Du Quoin 29
The top-seeded Hornets advanced easily as they broke out on top early in the first quarter and never were headed.
Royce Newman, a 6-foot-6 freshman, led all scorers with 19 points for the Hornets. Senior Chance Reuter, after missing his first five shots from the field, hit four of his next six and finished with 10 points. Senior Devin Holle chipped in with nine.
The Indians (14-15), playing without senior guard Deeja Cole, couldn't contain Newman and the 6-6 Holle in the low blocks.
"We did a nice job getting them the ball down low, and they converted," Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. "I thought we did a decent job at both ends of the floor. We wanted to come out and make sure we played extremely hard at both ends of the floor."
Newman finished 4-for-6 from the field and 9-for-12 from the free-throw line as the Indians couldn't match his physical play.
"He's a big, strong kid, and he's got good skills," Weather said. "He's still a freshman on certain things, but obviously, he's ahead of the curve. We've seen improvement through the season with him.
"Our guys did a really nice job getting him the basketball, too. He was down there and had position. They've been very unselfish doing that, and Devin has done a great job working with him also."
Senior Daulton Beltz led Du Quoin with 11 points. Senior Brenden Fred scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.
The Hornets led 27-11 at halftime and 44-25 after three quarters. Nashville then scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to culminate a 13-0 run.
Nashville committed just five turnovers and was not charged with its first foul until 4:54 to play in the game.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.