PEORIA — One of the biggest reasons for Nashville's late-season success has been a scary 1-2-2 zone defense made even scarier by the Hornets' trio of extremely active big men.
With 6-foot-7 Clint Johannes and Royce Newman and 6-6 Dylan Mueller, taking the ball inside on the Hornets has been like scaling a particularly high picket fence.
"We toyed with it a little bit in December, but we didn't really go to it strong then," Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. "You know me, I'm not a zone guy. That's more zone than I've played since 1986 (at Carlyle) with Phil Kunz' senior year and no 3-point line.
"It took a long time for me to get the finer points turned up and utilize all of our big kids. We're able to keep three (big men) on the floor quite a bit."
Nashville's zone completely flustered Petersburg PORTA during a 62-43 semifinal victory by the Hornets at the Class 2A state tournament.
The Bluejays shot just 29.8 percent from the floor (14-for-47) and 3-of-12 from 3-point range.
Carlyle High senior Matt Hilmes was the lone metro-east player to earn first-team all-state honors from the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association.
Central senior Jacob Timmermann and Okawville freshman Noah Frederking each made second-team all-state and Gibault senior Wes Degener was third-team all-state.
Gibault senior Nick Row earned fourth-team honors, as did Nashville sophomore Royce Newman and Okawville senior Jacob Brammeier.
Cracking the special mention all-state list was Logan Zachry (Carlyle), Logan Kohrmann (Central) and Mike Stimac (Wood River).
Earning honorable mention were Tre Edmundson (Sparta), A.J. Jeffers (Steeleville), Daniel Thorson (Nashville), Taylor Schmitt (Lebanon), Devin Jones (Lovejoy), Jon Batts (Metro-East Lutheran) and Arlando Cook (Madison).
Large and in charge
Not many Class 1A teams, if any, could match the height of the Mooseheart Red Ramblers. The school, which is funded by Moose International and includes several players from South Sudan in Africa and other countries, has a 7-foot center in Akim Nyang.
It also boasts a 6-10 senior forward in Makur Puou and 6-7 senior guard Mangisto Deng -- plus a 7-foot-3 freshman that has been ruled ineligible.
According to the Mooseheart website, the school is a "child city," a home for children and teens in need from infancy through high school. It was dedicated in 1913 and is located between the Kane County towns of Aurora and Batavia.
Deng had 31 points Friday in a 74-61 semifinal win over Mendon Unity at the Class A state tourney while Puou had 20 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Mendon Unity led for a time during the first half and got 29 points from Alex Blickhan.
Mooseheart (28-3) will face Heyworth (26-7) for the state title at 2 p.m. Friday.
With an us-against-the-world mentality, Mooseheart even has players wearing "Play Angry" t-shirt similar to those worn by unbeaten and top-ranked Wichita State.
" I would think that everyone would want to see us lose -- and I don't blame them," said Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens, whose team has been the subject of several Illinois High School Association investigations and had players ruled ineligible in the past. "I'm sure there is a very, very large majority out there that would like to see us lose, and that kind of helps us a little bit.
"Sometimes when you know things like that are happening, you play a little bit more angry."
Ahrens' squad lost in the sectional semifinal last season, but this year has a shot at the state title.
"We actually don't remember last season," Ahrens said during his news conference Friday following the semifinal win. "All of us up here blocked it out, so we really don't remember what happened. We had some very locked in goals at the beginning of the year.
"Super-sectional was a big goal for us, so I was hoping after that it lifted some weight off our shoulders. I think we'll be a little more calm and relaxed (in the finals) than we were today."