Purple Riders fall in sectional final

Mar. 2—To submit a letter to the editor, click here.

Want to purchase today's print edition? Here's a map of single-copy locations.

EFFINGHAM — The purple wall standing along half of St. Anthony's Enlow Center was in place well before the Arcola boys' basketball team emerged for warmups on Friday night.

When the Purple Riders faithful filed down 19 rows of bleachers some two hours later, they'd witnessed Christ Our Rock Lutheran defeat Arcola 49-39 to dash the program's hopes of its first sectional plaque in six decades.

"To win a regional and knock off the number one team in the state and then to make it to the Sweet 16, it's just a blessing," Arcola coach Greg Gisinger said.

"We couldn't get it done," Gisinger continued, "unfortunately for our community."

Arcola's contingent and a nearly-equal showing from Christ Our Rock each had reason to stand throughout the Class 1A sectional final, which tilted between favor for the Purple Riders (27-7) and Silver Stallions (20-15) for the balance of the game.

A team-high 15 points from Parker Boehne, 13 points from Omari King and 11 points from Jayden Bazile ultimately helped the Silver Stallions advance within one victory of their first trip to the state tournament.

"Total team effort," Christ Our Rock coach Dan Kueper said. "We figured after them watching Jayden Bazile play (against Tuscola) on Wednesday that they'd probably come out and guard him hard. ... When you're putting that much pressure on one player, it's going to leave some other ones open."

Bazille scored 25 points and made seven three-pointers during Wednesday night's 49-46 win against Tuscola, preventing a Cola Wars showdown for the right to advance to Monday's super-sectional at Groniger Arena on the Eastern Illinois University campus in Charleston.

Arcola (27-7) won the opening tip-off and claimed the first lead of the game thanks to a free throw from Brody Phillips 20 seconds into the game.

Moments later, a layup from Tanner Thomas energized the Arcola crowd, much of which arrived wearing purple 'Sweet Sixteen' shirts that were ordered to celebrate the team's 56-44 win against Webber in a sectional semifinal win on Tuesday night.

"It was crazy," Arcola junior Braden Phillips said. "Loudest thing I've ever heard in a basketball game. It was amazing."

A three-point response from King and a contested putback from Boehne helped supply a response from the Silver Stallions that put them ahead 12-9 at the first quarter buzzer.

Arcola fought back to earn an 18-17 lead by halftime thanks to two shots from Braden Phillips, a push that brought the Arcola crowd to its feet as the Purple Riders trotted into the locker room under the south basket.

"I couldn't think of a better environment to play in," Arcola senior Jackson Miller said. "It's remarkable how the town came together for this one game and the past 30 games that we played. All the support for the past four years, I'll never forget it."

Braden Phillips helped the Purple Riders to a fast start in the third quarter. He delivered a putback and got to the free throw line on consecutive possessions to help Arcola take a 22-17 lead within the first 90 seconds of the frame.

Arcola's run was short-lived, however, as Boehne converted a field goal to spark a 15-0 run for the Silver Stallions during the next three minutes, which included two three-pointers from King.

"You play these games, you try and feel teams out in the beginning," Kueper said. "We tried some stuff in the first half to see if it worked. ... We changed our offensive set. We were pretty much spread."

A layup from Brody Phillips — his only field goal of the contest — and a three-pointer from Miller helped Arcola arrive at the end of the quarter trailing 37-34 despite the run.

Christ Our Rock responded with a 12-6 scoring edge in the final eight minutes, with a pair of three-pointers from Miller representing Arcola's lone scores.

"He's a senior, 1,000-point scorer. We expect him to make those shots," Gisinger said. "We turned the ball over in some critical situations, and I think that was the difference in the game."

Miller's 16-point performance included four three-pointers to lead the Purple Riders, while Braden Phillips chipped in 14 points.

Thomas, Brody Phillips and Gerardo Alanis combined for nine points to round out Arcola's scoring.

Despite falling two games short of the state tournament, the Purple Riders realized what this postseason run did not only for them, but their Douglas County community.

"It meant the world," Braden Phillips said. "These guys, we played with them all of last year, all this year. We love each other. Just can't explain what we had going on and unfortunate that it came to an end (Friday)."

Arcola took its time in the locker room as the Silver Stallions cut down the nets to end a run that included the Purple Riders' first regional title since 2016.

"(Gisinger) just talked about how proud he was of us," Miller said. "I'll be one of those guys, I guess, still here in 15 years, probably, watching Arcola basketball games. It's nice to know you had somewhat of an effect on it."