The Nashville Hornets left Okawville guard Alec Wisneski open much of the night, daring him to shoot from beyond the 3-point line.
Wisneski was more than happy to make the Hornets pay with two 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter that helped make the difference in a wild 45-43 victory at the Mater Dei Christmas Tournament.
Wisneski scored all seven Okawville points in the fourth quarter as a standing-room-only crowd roared its way throughout the eight final and frenetic minutes. The Rockets already knew they were in the championship game regardless of what happened, but the Washington County rivalry kept things interesting throughout.
“I’m usually not known as the guy that shoots on our team, but I knew if we wanted to win tonight I really had to step up and make some shots,” said Wisneski, a senior guard averaging 5.5 points per game.
Never miss a local story.
He had no trouble taking the shots, saying nerves weren’t an issue.
“You’ve just got to suck it up and know that the game’s on you — and you’ve got to make it,” Wisneski said.
You’ve just got to suck it up and know that the game’s on you — and you’ve got to make it.
Okawville guard Alec Wisneski
“I actually told him to shoot a lot more times than he did,” Okawville coach Jon Kraus said. “He hit the big shots when we needed him to and hopefully that is a springboard for him going forward. At times he’s been reluctant to try to score and he’s very capable of doing that.
“Tonight he did a good job of it and probably won us the game with those shots.”
TITLE ON THE LINE
Okawville, which went 4-0 in pool play, is in the tourney championship game for the first time since winning its last title at Mater Dei in 2002. The Rockets (12-1) will play Central (11-1) in the tourney championship at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
It presents an intriguing matchup with Central ranked first in the state in Class 2A and Okawville ranked second in 1A. Central hammered Briarcrest 56-42 Wednesday to reach the final.
“It means a lot to anybody,” Kraus said. “It’s one of the most prestigious tournaments in Illinois, I think. Any time you can beat the field that we had this year and get to the finals, no matter how you get there, it’s great.
“I’m more happy about the fact that our kids get to play in that atmosphere tomorrow night and we’ll get a good learning experience from it. I think they deserve it. They’ve earned it.”
Nashville (6-6) had a sound defensive strategy that involved playing high-scoring Okawville junior star Noah Frederking in a box-and-one defense. The Hornets used Jaris Dalman to chase Frederking much of the night, switching at times with other defenders, and Dalman was effective in holding Frederking toonly eight points.
But Wisneski and Shane Ganz each scored 13 points and Mason Drury added eight as the Rockets, playing without injured starter Brad Fuhrhop, drained nine of their 20 3-point tries. Nashville also got 11 points from Brady Bultman, who had nine in the first quarter.
We’ve got some guys that can play, that are going to make plays outside of Noah. If the (defensive) attention goes to him, that’s fine, we’ll figure out ways to get around it.
Okawville coach Jon Kraus
“We’ve got some guys that can play, that are going to make plays outside of Noah,” Kraus said. “If the (defensive) attention goes to him, that’s fine, we’ll figure out ways to get around it. Tonight I thought we made winning plays to beat it.”
Wisneski’s two quick threes early in the final quarter gave Okawville a 44-38 lead after the game had been tied at 38 heading to the final eight minutes.
Nashville crept within 44-43 on a 3-pointer by Dalman, but Wisneski hit the first of two free throws with 35.8 seconds remaining to restore the two-point lead.
That set the stage for a wild finish with everyone in the gym realizing the ball was headed for the large hands of Nashville’s 6-foot-7 University of Missouri football recruit, Royce Newman.
Newman, who finished with 18 points, hit a shot from close range but the official closest to the play ruled the foul occurred before the shot. Nashville inbounded the ball to Newman, whose next shot just ahead of the buzzer glanced off the rim.
“I thought he scored, then they called a foul and said it’s on the ground,” Nashville coach Brad Weathers said. “(Our) bench erupted, we thought we’d tied it up and (he’s) going to the line. They were disappointed it was called on the grounnd before he went up, but we had other chances.
“We had some other chances where we couldn’t get baskets down late and give them credit, they dogged the heck out of us.”
It was indeed that kind of game as both teams had to decide what to do against the obvious No. 1 scoring options in Newman and Frederking.
Frederking had eight points and took only seven shots, while Newman was 9-for-23.
“It was a matchup issue with both teams,” Weathers said. “That was a gamble we took. Royce can’t be out chasing Noah and vice versa down low, even though theyr’e the biggest two kids on their team.”
Kraus said it didn’t matter the Rockets already knew they would be in the championship game. The packed house suggested that the game meant a lot to both teams, who ironically will face each other game Jan. 5.
“It’s always a big game for both teams and tonight was no different,” he said. “They’ve struggled a little bit in this tournament, we knew we were going to get a good fight from them. They have some pieces on their team that give us problems and we have some that give them problems.
“Tonight we just made one more play than they did.”
Central 56, Briarcrest 42
Both teams had 3-0 record in pool play before Wednesday, but that’s where the similarities ended as the Cougars led 32-13 at halftime and 49-24 after three quarters. Central got 16 points from senior Logan Kohrmann and 15 from senior Chase Schneider. Senior Will Hrubes had 10 points for Briarcrest, which will face Mater Dei in the third-place game.