Gibault is one game away from state berth

News-DemocratMarch 11, 2014 

While they lean heavily on a group of seniors perhaps as talented as any in school history, the Gibault Hawks' basketball playoff success comes courtesy of some multi-sport athletes.

"It's just such a good group," said Gibault coach Dennis Rueter, whose 25-8 team takes on Mendon Unity (20-11) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Class 1A Jacksonville Super-Sectional with a state tourney berth on the line. "Even with what they've accomplished in all their sports, hardly any of them are basketball-first kids. Most of them, if they had to pick a sport they were the best at, they wouldn't say basketball."

Senior scoring and rebounding leader Wes Degener was the News-Democrat Small-School Baseball Player of the Year last spring after helping the Hawks win the state title.

He also was a big part of the state soccer championship last fall and joins fellow double state champs Mitch Meyer and Tyler Enright in the basketball starting lineup.

Hawks' senior guard Zach Neff was Gibault's No. 1 pitcher last spring and is headed to Division I Austin Peay State on a baseball scholarship.

Nick Row, Jacob Rueter and Zach Rueter were also on the state soccer championship squad and Rick Schmersahl was on the state baseball title team.

"It's a confident group and they're feeling like this is their time," Coach Rueter said. "But all you've got to do is have a hiccup and things fall apart. The big thing is to go out and enjoy the fact you're in the super-sectional and play hard.

"Whatever happens, happens."

What's happened in the playoffs for Gibault is an ability to shred teams from the perimeter. In five playoff wins, Gibault has hit an incredible 39 of its 75 3-point field-goal attempts (52 percent).

That includes a 12-for-21 performance in the sectional semifinal win over Hardin Calhoun.

"The first thing you notice about them is guard play," Unity coach Keith Carothers said. "They've got a lot of guys that can chuck it ... a lot of guys that can knock down the three. We've got to make sure we defend the 3-point line and not give them too many easy looks."

Basketball fans at Unity High and in the small western Illinois town of Mendon are fired up about their team's third sectional championship and first since 1990.

While many expected Payson Seymour or Liberty to emerge as a state tourney contender, the Mustangs are the sole survivor.

They were the No. 2 seed in their own regional behind Camp Point Central.

"I don't think people expected nearly as much out of us and we've expected out of ourselves," Carothers said. "Admittedly we haven't played this well all year long. The town's getting into it a ton. They had a presale of tickets today and it's going like crazy, so everybody's trying to be part of it and enjoy it a little bit."

The Mustangs beat Kewanee Wethersfield 68-51 to win the Brimfield Sectional, holding their opponents to 16-for-56 shooting (29 percent) while outrebounding them 46-26.

Leading the way was 6-foot-5 senior star Lane Davis (13 points, 15 rebounds) and senior guard Alex Blickhan (18 points, eight rebounds).

"The big kid's obviously a problem for us because we have no size," Coach Rueter said. "Their guards are strong, physical kids too. But for us, I think the big kid is definitely an issue."

Davis average 15 points and nine rebounds while Blickhan averages 12.5 points. Will Klusmeyer (9.2 ppg) is another threat.

"Lane is always kind of the rock for us," Carothers said. "He's the guy we depend on to get some things done, especially on the inside."

Carothers said his team is playing with a lot of belief in itself.

"We just win ugly," he said. "A lot of times it doesn't look great from a play-running standpoint and things like that, but our kids find a way to get it done."

The only common opponent between the teams is Lovejoy, which beat Unity 66-59 on Feb. 8. However, Unity was without Davis that night.

Gibault beat Lovejoy 65-49 on Feb. 21.

The Hawks have won six straight since losing to 3A sectional qualifier Marquette and are trying for their first state tournament berth since finishing second in 1999.

Degener (16.2 points, 7.3 rebounds per game) remains an inside and outside force while Row (13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds per game, 35 3-pointers) is becoming more of an offensive force of late.

He racked up 39 points in the two sectional wins and Meyer (9.3 ppg) leads Gibault with 58 3-pointers.

Gibault has beaten both of the 2A Carbondale Super-Sectional qualifiers, Nashville and Teutopolis.

"We've played some pretty good people throughout the course of the year, so we're a little better equipped than some of these teams to be able to approach this thing," Rueter said.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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