Effingham Daily News
Alex Hoelscher got a chance at redemption after missing two free throws, one nearly an air ball with 13 seconds left.
He made his second chance count for two, lifting St. Anthony to a 53-48 lead with a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left in the Bulldogs’ Vandalia Holiday Tournament championship win over Flora 55-48.
Hoelscher knew he couldn’t come up empty, but a lot had to happen for the tournament’s most valuable player to get back to the line.
“I was a little bit nervous the first time,” Hoelscher said. “It was almost embarrassing.”
Neil Williams probably felt the same way after missing the front end of a one-and-one on St. Anthony’s first opportunity to extend its 51-48 lead from the free throw line.
Williams’ miss set up a 3-point shot for Flora sharpshooter Bryce Pearce, who scored 17 points in the game – 15 of which came from 3-pointers.
He missed the shot that would have tied the game and Hoelscher got the rebound, but St. Anthony head coach Cody Rincker knows the Bulldogs caught a break.
“We were just kind of praying at that point,” Rincker said. “Pearce getting that kind of look and missing was fortunate on our part.”
Good fortune turned sour when Hoelscher missed the next two free throws in the double bonus. Making things worse, Andrew Gardewine was called for a reach-in foul on the attempted rebound, sending John Casolari to the free throw line.
Casolari hadn’t been to the line the whole game and he missed the first of a one-and-one. Again, Hoelscher grabbed a rebound – his 13th of the night.
The rest was as Rincker expected it would be the first time around. Hoelscher and Williams made the final four free throws of the game.
“We shoot them all the time in practice and shot so well this tournament that I was surprised to see our boys miss those,” Rincker said. “We talk about turning the page and that’s what (Hoelscher) did.”
The Bulldogs turned the page earlier in the game, too, when they fell behind 17-10 in the second quarter.
St. Anthony could’ve been in for a different ending had they lost control at that point, Rincker said, but the Bulldogs rallied to score 13 of the next 15 points and take a 23-19 lead into halftime.
John Goeckner led the comeback, scoring 20 points in the game. He was named to the all-tournament team after the game.
“In some ways, that was the ball game,” Rincker said. “We could’ve hung our heads, pouted and pointed some figures but these guys didn’t.”
Flora didn’t go away after St. Anthony continued its hot streak and took a 32-23 lead with 5:36 left in the third quarter.
Pearce made three of his five 3-pointers to bring Flora back into a 34-34 game with 3:36 left, at which point Rincker wasn’t going to let the shooter beat the Bulldogs.
When Pearce missed the 3-pointer with less than 15 seconds left in the game, Rincker said he thought it was because he was tired.
“I’m hoping some of that was our defense making him work hard all night long that he had tired legs,” Rincker said. “That was the key — holding him in check.”
St. Anthony’s Vandalia title comes after finishing ninth last season. The Bulldogs improve to 10-3 this season and went undefeated in the tournament.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
St. Anthony 10 13 15 17 55
Flora 10 9 17 12 48
St. Anthony: Williams 15, Gibson 2, Hoelscher 16, Goeckner 20, Rios 2
Flora: Pearce 17, Smith 10, Leib 12, J. Casolari 7, R. Casolari 2