Just 19-65 over the last three seasons, including a 1-19 mark in the Cahokia Conference from 2010-12, the Freeburg Midgets waited a long time to celebrate a truly big victory.
They finally got the chance Friday with a 48-45 upset over preseason No. 1-ranked Carlyle, considered the Midgets' biggest since beating Central in January, 2008.
"I think we went almost three years there without a conference win, so it was a deal for us," said Freeburg coach T.J. Hoover, whose 2-4 team's only other win this season came against Southwestern. "It was great for the kids. They were real excited and it was a good moment for our players, our coaching staff and our student section. We had great energy throughout the building all night."
Senior center Justin Diecker led the way with 13 points while Jack Kemper scored 11 and Jacob Mueller had 10.
In the end-game sequence, Freeburg's Dylan DeMond hit a 17-footer before Carlyle's Matt Hilmes fought off two defenders to tie it.
Mueller sank a 3-pointer for Freeburg, but Carlyle trimmed the deficit back to one on a pair of free throws. Freeburg's only missed free throw of the night on 10 tries came at an inopportune time, but the Midgets' DeMond came up with a steal and was fouled with 2.9 seconds remaining.
He hit both free throws and Nick Yung added another steal at the end to clinch a win that definitely got everyone's attention given Carlyle's returning nucleus of talent and 2A state ranking.
Freeburg was 10-17 last season, 7-21 two years ago and 2-27 the season before that.
Headed to Division I Kennesaw State, the 6-foot-9 Diecker averages 14.7 points and 11 rebounds. Mueller is the top scorer at 16.5 ppg and already has 15 3-pointers.
Diecker's younger brother Zach Diecker (7.8 ppg) and Kemper (7.3 ppg) have also contributed offensively while Hoover said Yung has been a good point guard and defender.
With the 6-9 Diecker attracting so much defensive attention, Hoover hopes his other players will continue to take advantage of their opportunities.
The time for celebrating is over with a home conference game Tuesday against Central, followed by Columbia on the road on Friday.
"It definitely doesn't get any easier for us," Hoover said. "But the kids are really starting to believe in themselves and making some things happen."
Big night for Marquette guard
To say that Marquette High senior guard Deion Lavender carried his team Saturday at the Midwest Showdown Shootout would be a huge understatement.
Lavender erupted for a school record 53 points and three other Explorers scored two in a 69-59 loss to St. Mary's of St. Louis. Lavender sank 18 of his 35 shots, hit five 3-pointers and was 12-for-12 at the foul line.
"It was unbelievable," Marquette coach Steve Medford said. "We didn't win the game but it was a performance you don't get to see that often."
Medford was so focused on the game he had no idea how hot his 6-foot-4 senior had become.
"I knew he had a lot and I thought he was in the 30's," sad Medford, who was stunned when his assistant coach told him Lavender scored 44 of his team's first 48 points. "That kind of tells you what kind of game it was."
Marquette's three other scorer were a combined 2-for-22 from the floor and added two free throws.
Lavender was lighting St. Mary's up from everywhere.
"It was all over the place," Medford said. "He's a three-tier playa and a lot of kids are one-tier player. Three-tier players can hit threes, get to the rack, then he can also recognize the defense and be able to stop and pop and hit that 12 or 15-footer.
"I'm just glad he's on my team."
Division I Wofford University from South Carolina had a coach at the game and Medford said he made Lavender a scholarship offers on the spot.
Medford also fielded a call from Missouri-St. Louis later that day. Lavender already has offers or interest from Lindenwood-St. Charles, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Indiana-Purdue-Ft. Wayne.
Despite losing three starters that transferred to Alton High and players being slowed by the flu and other illness, the Explorers are 7-2.
They earned the No. 1 seed at the Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament.
"We've lost so many guys and we're still battling in here every game," Medford said.
Althoff grad on top-ranked team
Former Althoff High standout Devin Griffin is the starting senior point guard and top scorer for the nation's No. 1-ranked NAIA team in the country, 9-0 Columbia College in Columbia, Mo.
Griffin and the Cougars own a 45-game regular-season winning streak dating back to 2011-12 and lead the American Midwest Conference.
Griffin is averaging 17.7 points per game and shooting 56 percent from the floor (51-for-91).
He started all 36 games as a junior last season, earning honorable mention NAIA All-American and first-team All-AMC honors while averaging 12.8 points with a team-best 136 assists.
The Cougars rank second in the nation in shooting percentage (.556) and scoring margin (plus-29.4 points per game, first in blocked shots (six per game) and eighth in scoring defense (63.9 ppg).
Columbia won its first 35 games last season before losing to LSU-Shreveport in the quarterfinals of the NAIA national tournament.