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The daily pitch from Sports Editor Matt Daniels: March 1, 2024

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Sports Editor Matt Daniels with a look at what's going on around the area:

Three reasons we love sports today

➜ 1. Arcola boys' basketball player and Unity girls' wrestler Phoenix Molina are the latest News-Gazette Athletes of the Week, powered by Copper Creek Contractors. Read more about the duo in Monday's News-Gazette.

➜ 2. Sectional championship night for both St. Joseph-Ogden and Arcola boys' basketball programs. The Spartans head to Shelbyville in search of their first sectional title since 2016 and the Purple Riders go to Effingham trying to win the program's first sectional title since 1964.

➜ 3. Nice of Illinois to honor Marcus Domask before Wednesday night's win aginst Minnesota for topping 2,000 career points. Domask now has 2,049 career points, with 1,615 of those at SIU and 434 at Illinois.

Numbers game: 6-1 5/8

The official height of former Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton as measured during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this week. Newton also checks in at 304 pounds as he tries to become the second straight Illini selected in the first round of the NFL draft after the Seahawks took Devon Witherspoon with the fifth pick in 2023. Illinois last had consecutive years with first-round picks in 2011 (Corey Liuget) and 2012 (Whitney Mercilus and A.J. Jenkins).

Crowd control

Three events I'm paying attention to

➜ 1. St. Joseph-Ogden vs. Teutopolis boys' basketball. The 7 p.m. Friday tip in Shelbyville offers up two of the state's most consistent programs in the last decade. Vying for an Elite Eight berth. Nothing better.

➜ 2. Arcola vs. Centralia Christ Our Rock Lutheran boys' basketball. If Arcola can continue its surprising postseason run with a win Friday night in the sectional title game, a 21-mile trip to Charleston for Monday night's super-sectional game awaits Greg Gisinger's program.

➜ 3. Thornton vs. Brother Rice boys' basketball. Future Illini big man Morez Johnson Jr. will try to lead Thornton to a Class 3A sectional title on its home floor Friday night.

Coach's corner

Three questions with Illinois men's tennis coach Brad Dancer. In his 19th season leading the Illini, Dancer has compiled a 362-165 record before his team hosts Eastern Illinois at 10 a.m. Friday and Baylor at 6 p.m. Friday at Atkins Tennis Center.

➜ 1. My favorite sports team is ... the Detroit Lions.

➜ 2. Three coaches I'd like to have dinner with are ... Don Haskins, Bill Russell and Kevin Kelley.

➜ 3. My biggest pet peeve is ... inefficiencies.