By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
For the third year in a row, the boys’ Macoupin County Tournament champion was decided in an “edge of seat” thriller battle between Southwestern and North Mac that came down to the final seconds. The Piasa Birds prevailed once again as Ian Brantley knocked down two clutch free throws, ensuring that Southwestern’s reign as county victor would become a dynasty on home hardwood in Piasa.
Unlike the previous two title games, this one didn’t need an overtime. After giving up a nine-point lead down the stretch, the Birds worked the clock down to 2.2 seconds and Brantley drew a shooting foul prior to locking up the three-peat at the 104th MCT. Brantley finished the evening with 25 of 43 points for Southwestern in a 43-41 victory.
All-Tournament honorees Brantley and Rocky Darr each drilled a three, capping off a 10-0 run which elevated the Birds in the final minute of the first quarter after both teams suffered through massive coldspells out of the gate. Southwestern led 10-2 after one and sustained similar advantage, 17-9 at halftime, and 31-24 at the conclusion of the third.
When Grayson Brewer successfully converted on a late three-point play, the game looked to be fading away at 41-32 Southwestern with just two-and-a-half minutes remaining. The odds then became even more bleak when North Mac lost its 6’6” 1,000-point scorer and All-Tournament team member J.T. Alexander with his fifth foul. But, the runner-up Panthers put forth one last gasp and buried back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game after Brantley missed two key free throws to keep the door open for North Mac in the final minute.
After Brantley had redeemed himself at the stripe, the Panthers called timeout and drew up a full-court inbounds play for a familiar 75-foot miracle heave. Last year, the shot went through the hoop but was waved off at the buzzer, thus giving Southwestern a 40-38 overtime victory over North Mac at Bunker Hill. This year, the shot missed, removing any additional drama with the exception of a disgruntled North Mac fan that was ejected for confronting referees as the Southwestern players and student section celebrated in the background.
Southwestern is 15-7 on the season. North Mac is 7-12.
In other action, Staunton dominated Carlinville 58-39 for third place. The Bulldogs made easy work of Bunker Hill 71-34 in the opening round and had themselves in the driver’s seat for a semifinal upset of top-seeded Southwestern. It still wasn’t meant to be for Staunton, however, as the Birds ended the game on a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter and handed the Dogs a third loss in as many head-to-heads, 46-41. Staunton is 12-9 overall. Carlinville, which previously knocked off Mt. Olive 48-15 and lost to North Mac 60-45, is 9-12.
After barely falling short against North Mac in the opening round, Gillespie closed the tournament with back-to-back victories over Mt. Olive (69-34) and Bunker Hill (79-63) to finish fifth. The Miners are 6-17 overall.
This year’s All-Tournament team featured Brantley, Alexander, Darr, Keagan Greff (North Mac) and Dominic Alepra (Carlinville).