JACKSONVILLE — Midway through the first quarter Tuesday, the Mendon Unity Mustangs caught fire and spent the rest of the night heating up the historic Jacksonville Bowl.
Trailing 10-4 early, Unity responded with a 12-2 run and dealt Gibault a 67-49 loss at the Class 1A Jacksonville Super-Sectional.
It will be the first state finals trip for Unity (21-11), which put four players in double figures led by senior center Lane Davis' 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Everything the Mustangs put up seemed to go in as they finsihed the night 27-of-39 (69.2 percent). Davis was 8-for-9 for the floor and Alex Blickhan (6-for-8) had 17 points.
"I think these kids came out really nervous," Unity coach Keith Carothers said. "This is the first time a lot of these kids...the first time Unity's been on this stage. There was a lot of nerves and we had a ton of crowd here, so I think that kind of got the better of them.
"Once we got a couple buckets to fall, that wore off and we got going from there."
Now the Mustangs are headed to Peoria.
"I haven't been yet, in fact I've never even been to the watch the state tournament," Carothers said. "It will be a new experience and it will be a lot of fun with a great group."
Gibault's bid to follow up its state baseball and state soccer championships with another in basketball came to an abrupt halt Tuesday.
The Hawks (25-9) got 20 points from senior Wes Degener and 18 from senior Nick Row.
Gibault tried to blow things open early, grabbing a 10-4 lead with Degener shredding the Mustangs inside. He had eight of Gibault's 12 points in the first quarter, but momentum quickly turned.
With Gibault leading 10-4, Mendon Unity went on a 12-2 run that finally pushed the Mustangs on top early in the second quarter.
After the Hawks regained the lead on a shot by Mitch Meyer, Unity answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Dylan Schaffer and Adam Donley. That put the Mustangs on top 28-20 and they led Gibault 28-22 at halftime.
"These guys have been a group full of runs and once that first run started, they felt really comfortable," Carothers said of his team. "We went into halftime on a big lead, but we hadn't played really well so we felt pretty well coming after that."
The same Gibault team that had drained 39-of-75 3-point shots (52 percent) during five straight playoff wins missed its first 18 from beyond the arc Tuesday. The Hawks got one 3-pointer and it came from reserve Rick Schmersahl just ahead of the final buzzer.
Gibault was 22-of-59 overall (37.3 percent).
"When we don't make shots it's hard for us, but they played awfully well," Gibault coach Dennis Rueter said. "We really didn't have an answer for the big kid, he was really tough on us. Their other kids beat us on some things and made some shots, too."
The 6-foot-5 Davis scored 12 of his team's 28 first-half points. Degener had 14 of Gibault's 22 points at halftime, but the Hawks were never able to re-ignite their offense.
"You can't explain it, how could you?" Rueter said. "It's the way things go some times. You shoot it well, then maybe you don't shoot it well. We thought we could win even if we didn't shoot well.
"They played too well and we couldn't do it."
The Hawks got a combined 38 points from Degener and Row and Mitch Meyer was the next leading scorer with six points.
Unity's defense frustrated the Hawks most of the night.
"They're a heck of a shooting team," Carothers said. "I thought we did a really good job of defending on the perimeter and keeping guys in front of us. It was just a matter of staying focused and staying with the game plan."
When Gibault tried to make a comeback in the third quarter, Unity's Blickhan slammed the door by scoring eight of his 17 points during that span.
Donley added 13 points for the Mustangs.