Coach Jimmy Goebel and his Norris City-Omaha-Enfield Junior Cardinal basketball team ventured back to Ina Tuesday evening to play in the semifinal round of the SIJHSAA Class M State Tournament. This time, the Junior Cardinals were set to take on the 22-8 Smithton Cougars.
When action began, it appeared that the Junior Cardinals were going to coast to the championship round when they quickly jumped out to an 11-2 lead. This, however, did not last, for the Cougars started to come alive and went on a 3-0 run to finish the first quarter with NCOE leading by just six points, 11-5. The second quarter would find the defense picking up for both squads and limiting the scoring. This defensive pressure would limit NCOE to just three second quarter points while their opponent would manage six to leave the halftime score at 14-11 in favor of the Junior Cardinals.
The third quarter would resume in much the same way with defense staying strong for both teams. NCOE would find the Cougars taking their first lead of the game, forcing a timeout for the Jr. Cards. At this time, the Junior Cardinals would manage to regroup and take the lead back as the quarter was closing. However, this struggle to get off good shots would once again find Smithton cutting into the NCOE lead as they outscored the Jr. Cards 9-8 to bring the score to 22-20 heading into the final quarter of play. This fourth and final frame was very intense on both ends of the court with NCOE clinging to a one point advantage with less than :30 seconds to play. At this time, Cord Tucker would draw the foul, and following a timeout, step to the line and knock both free throws down to push the NCOE lead to three points, 31-28. With fouls to give to keep the Cougars from getting off the tying shot, NCOE kept Smithton from any rhythm. However, in the closing seconds, the Cougars would throw up a prayer and miss allowing the Junior Cardinals to grab the rebound. Following a turnover by NCOE with 1.8 seconds remaining, Smithton would literally throw up a shot and, everyone in attendance would watch it bank off the glass and go through the goal to tie the game at 31-all, forcing an extra session of play. Overtime started out with the Cougars grabbing the tip, but some good defense by the Junior Cardinals forced a turnover. On the ensuing play, Cord Tucker was fouled as he was penetrating towards the basket. Tucker would make both free throws to give the Jr. Cards the 33-31 lead. After a missed shot by Smithton, NCOE would gather the rebound and start working the clock forcing Smithton to foul. Preston Long would then step to the charity stripe and knock down both to extend the lead to 35-31. Another Cougar miss and Cardinal rebound would this time place Erik Healy on the line where he would convert both free throws to push the lead then to 37-31. The next possession found Tucker going back to the line to make the front end of the one and one to help NCOE claim the seven points lead. This, on top of a run out layup by Healy, found NCOE in control with the 39-31 lead with just second remaining. Smithton would manage to knock down a last second three pointer to bring the score to 39-34. This would be as close as the game would come as the NCOE Junior Cardinals dominated the overtime session, landing themselves in the State Championship game against the Pinckneyville Junior Panthers. This victory moves the Junior Cardinals to 26-1 on the season.
Following the game, Coach Jimmy Goebel stated, “Our defense was great the whole game other than a couple of miscues. Free throws win again as we went 9 for 10 in the 4th quarter and overtime.”
Scoring was very balanced by the Junior Cardinals in this game with Preston Long scoring nine points, Erik Healy eight points, Joel Hortin eight points, Cord Tucker seven points, Colby Prather six points, and Jaden Simmons two points. Hortin led the way with three assists followed by Long, Tucker, Prather, and Healy with one a piece.
Joel Hortin was the leading rebounder as he grabbed a team high seven rebounds followed by Preston Long with three, Erik Healy two, Jaden Simmons one, and Colby Prather one. Healy had a team high three steals while Long added two, and Prather one.
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