By Brent Huelsmann
For the second straight season, the Nashville Hornets boys basketball team’s season ended in the Sectional Final. Last year it was Central, but this year it was the Alton Marquette Explorers that ended Nashville’s season. The Hornets finished the season with a record of 20-13. It was the 31st consecutive season in which the Hornets finished with a winning record.
It was deja-vu in the Sectional Semi-Final as the Nashville Hornets ended the season of the Pinckneyville Panthers in thrilling fashion for the second straight season. Last season, Jaris Dalman found Royce Newman late to give Nashville a victory. This year, it was Brandon Schnitker, who completed a three point play, that gave Nashville a 43-40 win over the Panthers.
In the first, neither team could gain a significant advantage. The Hornets led throughout, but could only get their lead as high as four points. A late basket by Pinckneyville cut the Hornets lead to 12-10. In the second, the Hornets again led throughout. Nashville would take their largest lead of the game thus far at 17-11 on a three pointer by Bryce Bultman, but again Pinckneyville would cut into the lead before the quarter ended. At halftime, the Hornets held a 20-17 lead.
After the break, the Panthers came out swinging as they took their first lead of the game, at 25-24. The Panthers would extend their lead to 28-24 on a three pointer by J.C. Moll, but would not score again in the third quarter. The Hornets ended the third quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 30-28 lead into the final stanza.
In the fourth, the Panthers would quickly grab the lead back as Grant Jausel connected on a three pointer, but the Hornets would fight back to take the lead back. Pinckneyville would gain go on a run and take a 36-32 lead over the Hornets. Nashville would continue to fight back, and eventually tie the game at 40 on free throws from senior Brogan Kemp. With two minutes left on the clock, the Panthers would try to hold for the final shot. As time wound down, Panthers senior Kyle Luke drove down the lane, but the Hornets got another big play from Kemp. Kemp was able to block the shot, giving the Hornets the ball with just over 10 seconds left on the clock.
After the game, Pinckneyville coach Randy Waggoner, talked about the play. “ The ball was tipped off the backboard. The layup. It’s a goaltend. When you make a layup and a kid hits the ball off the backboard, you can’t do that. Missed it.”
With time expiring, Bultman drove down the lane, put up a shot that bounced off the rim. Kemp pulled down the rebound, but his shot clanked off the rim as well. A scramble ensued with Schnitker coming away with the ball. Schnitker was able to throw up a circus shot that went through the hoop giving Nashville a 42-40 lead with just .4 seconds on the clock. Schnitker was fouled on the attempt and connected on the free throw to give the Hornets a three point lead. A full court heave from Pinckneyville fell well short as the Hornets advanced to the Sectional Championship.
Coach Brad Weathers talked about the frantic final seconds. “It was hustle points, and that is what Schnitker is really good at. We battled til the end, I thought we were going to overplay down there, we did not want to give up a layup there when they had the floor spread, we got it back, almost called a timeout, but then when I saw us attack the basket, I thought no, we’re going to go because we were in the bonus so we were going to take our chances with that.”
In the Sectional Final, the Hornets could not withstand a furious second half rally, as the Explorers shocked the Hornets with a 55-48 victory.
Everything went right in the first half for the Hornets, as in the first Nashville rushed out to a 16-7 lead behind six points from Kemp and five point from Heggemeier. The Hornets continued to build their lead in the second quarter as they went up by as many as 12. A late three pointer from Alton Marquette’s Sammy Green cut Nashville’s lead to 26-17 at the break.
In the third quarter, the Explorers could not miss as they knocked down five three pointers, two apiece from Reagan Snider and Isiah Evans. The Hornets quickly went from being up 11 early in the third to being down by three by the end of the frame. Turnovers plagued Nashville in the third, and Marquette was able to take advantage. The Hornets were outscored 21-9 in the third quarter, and trailed 38-35 as the teams heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, the Hornets could not take back the lead. After going down by as many as seven, the Hornets would cut Alton Marquette’s lead to two on two free throws from Bryce Bultman with under a minute to play. Down the stretch, Alton Marquette was able to knock down free throws and defeat Nashville 55-48.
After the game, Weathers talked about the second half. ““They turned up the heat. We coughed it up several times, and they converted on it, I think on everyone and they hit some tough shots.”
The Hornets lose five seniors from this year’s squad. Weathers talked about each one after the season-ending loss. “Hayden has been on the varsity team for the last four years. It’s because he was able to guard as a freshman and we needed him. He’s that kid that doesn’t show up in the box score that much but when you look at our statsheet, he is in the top two or three in every statistical category we’ve got, other than points. He does all of the little things. He’s a coach’s player. Brogan Kemp, we knew this past year that there was times we could pair him up with Royce Newman inside and make a really tough combo. We could match up. He really was one of the more dominant post players in Southern Illinois Class 2A. He did a great job, very athletic. We saw the play he made against Pinckneyville. Just a very competitive athletic kid. Could go both ways. To be 6’6 and 220 and do those things. He probably played in Royce’s shadow last couple years, people didn’t notice them but we knew it was there. He really came out. I think he made the All-Tournament team at all three tournaments we played in. Ryan Brink, our best three point shooter, one of the best shooters around. He could really really light it up. He got on some runs, and people obviously really tried to take that away guard him, and that helped open up some other things for other people. He really came a long way defensively. Langdon Briles, from a kid who came up from the JV team last year, and he just kept getting better and better and stronger. Whether he is coming off the bench or starting for us. Great leaper. Unfortunately he will be one of those kids in a couple years he will be 220. Then you’ve got Trevor Meier, who was kind of assistant coach for us. He gave us depth at the guard spot, but did a tremendous job assisting in practice. A strong competitive kid, running the scout team for us. Like I told him earlier, I really think coaching, if he’s interested in it, that would really fit the bill for him. He’s very knowledgeable and knows what is going on all the time.”
Kemp again led the Hornets with 14 points followed by Heggemeier with 10 points. Bultman finished with 8 points while Briles added seven points. Brink scored six points in the loss, and Schnitker finished with three points to round out the scoring.