Nashville looking for first state basketball title since 1978

News-DemocratMarch 13, 2014 

Twenty-five years after guiding the Carlyle Indians to a state basketball championship, Hall of Fame coach Brad Weathers is taking another team to the state finals.

This time it's the Nashville Hornets (26-7), who will face Petersburg PORTA (26-5) in the Class 2A semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Peoria's Carver Arena.

"It never gets old," said Weathers, who picked up his 500th career win last month and is 112-43 in five seasons with the Hornets. "That was almost a lifetime away, these kids weren't even born when we went back then (in 1989). Another trip is very gratifying, but we also want to win two more ballgames."

This is the 10th state tourney trip for the Hornets, making their first final four appearance since winning the 1978 Class A state title. Nashville had lost five straight games in the Elite 8 before knocking off Teutopolis on Tuesday to earn a trip to Peoria.

"We had to fight through everything," said Nashville junior Daniel Thorson, whose team has battled injuries and inconsistency while making a huge improvement from the start of the season to the end. "It feels good to be able to keep the tradition strong and keep on doing what we're doing."

Nashville has won eight in a row and 13 of 14.

Averaging 9.5 points, Thorson has been Nashville's leading scorer in six of the last nine games. He had a season-high 25 points Tuesday in the 51-45 super-sectional win over Teutopolis.

One of Thorson's heroes growing up was former Nashville and Northern Iowa standout Lucas O'Rear, who kept bringing the Hornets to the state tournament.

"I remember watching all his games and following him every year," Thorson said. "That's what we've been dreaming about since we were kids, too -- just trying to get here and winning a state championship."

Nashville's offense is aided by it's "TripTowers" trio of 6-foot-7 sophomore Royce Newman (12.5 points, 5.6 rebounds per game), 6-7 senior Clint Johannes (7.9 ppg) and 6-6 junior Dylan Mueller.

"It took us a while to find our roles and some of them had adjusted roles and different roles," said Weathers, whose team lost three senior starters from last season.

Senior guards Keegan Anderson (8.3 ppg) and Hunter Beetley (7 ppg) have also contributed offensively, but right now Thorson has the hot hand.

"He's always been a really aggressive player, even as a freshman he was a strong, physical kid," Weathers said. "I think his confidence is much better now. Not that it was ever lacking but he's playing awfully confident with the ball."

Petersburg PORTA co-ops with Ashland A-C Central and has won 10 in a row and 12 of its last 13. This is the Bluejays' first state tourney appearance since 1973.

"It's been an exciting run," Bluejays coach Nick Rathgeb said. "We've definitely had some tough games here and there, -- some we made tougher than maybe it should have been -- but we were always able to pull it out."

PORTA is an acronym for the schools within the high school's district: Petersburg, Oakford, Rock Creek, Tallula and Atterbury.

Petersburg's top scorer is Nic Sinclair, a Lincoln Land College recruit and 5-10 senior guard averaging 18 points with 48 3-pointers.

Sinclair had a 40-point game earlier this season in a 70-61 loss to Macomb and has been at or above 30 points three times.

"He's one of those kids that grew up doing stuff in the driveway, counting down and trying to make shots," Rathgeb said. "He plays the game like that, like a kid out in the driveway. That helps him not get rattled."

The Jays have several other potent scorers in senior Nate Hopper (15.3 ppg, 63 3-pointers), junior guard Matt Muller (8.8 ppg, 20 3-pointers) and junior Michael McCurdy (7.5 ppg).

"They're small, they're very quick and they're very skilled," Weathers said. "They want to spread you out and they've got some really good shooters. It's like they've got five guards on the floor and they are a difficult matchup for a lot of people."

Nashville was 7-5 after the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament while battling injuries and trying to come together as a cohesive unit. The Hornets are 19-2 since then.

"Looking back, I think that made us a stronger team," Weathers said. "Every team's got adversity, just at different levels and it might have taken us a while to get through that stuff. Hopefully we're playing our best ball right now."

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

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