By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
By the end of the middle school boys’ basketball season, all local eyes were on Girard North Mac. The seventh grade boys made it to state and the eighth graders fell just one win short.
This year, North Mac was the only county school to surpass regionals at both grade levels.
Statistically, the North Mac seventh graders came into their regional championship as the underdog against Carlinville. However, the Panthers made it look like they were the team to beat as they stunned the top-seeded Cavaliers, 43-28, after beating Litchfield, 40-25, in the previous round.
The Panthers were scheduled to face state-ranked East St. Louis Lincoln in the sectional title game, but their opponent’s bus broke down on the way to the game. Therefore, according to the Illinois Elementary School Association rulebook, East St. Louis had no other choice but to forfeit because its team was unable to take to the court as scheduled. Though the result was subject to controversy, a win was a win for North Mac.
Thus, the Panthers’ dream of competing at the IESA state tournament came true. Unfortunately, that dream only lasted one game. North Mac put forth a valiant effort against Avon Abingdon Avon, but came up short, 32-23.
The North Mac eighth graders thumped Litchfield, 46-29, in the regional semifinal then survived a championship scare against a surging flock of Southwestern Piasa Birds that was coming in hot following two convincing wins over Gillespie (38-9) and Hillsboro (44-33). North Mac held off Southwestern, 33-30, in the final and pulled to within one win of a state berth.
North Mac hosted East St. Louis in a hard-fought sectional championship game Feb. 6. The Panthers led 20-17 at the end of the first quarter and went into halftime tied at 23-23. The boys continued to feed off the energy of a hometown crowd and refused to let ESTL pull away. North Mac trailed by just one point heading into the fourth and remained within striking distance at 39-35 with 2:35 remaining before falling short, 51-42.