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Above: A Mendota basketball fan collects his thoughts after cheering on the Trojans Wednesday at the Class 3A Bradley Sectional Semifinal. Mendota lost 68-51 to Limestone to see its season come to a close. Below: Mendota senior Trae Blumhorst tries to keep a loose ball inbounds Wednesday at the Class 3A Bradley University Sectional.
WASHINGTON — Austin O’Sadnick sat on the Mendota bench with his head down and a towel over his head hiding his tears.
As the final minutes ran off the clock in Wednesday’s Class 3A Bradley University Sectional semifinal against Limestone at Washington High School, O’Sadnick tears summed up a frustrating and saddening end to Mendota’s season.
Limestone scored the game’s first nine points Wednesday and led from start to finish as it rolled to a 68-51 victory over MHS.
“It’s was just a really tough way to end,” MHS senior Jon Gehm said. “We played hard out there but didn’t play the way we normally do in the first half. But we still proved a lot of people wrong this year, and we carried momentum from the beginning of the season all the way to the sectionals.”
After falling behind 9-0, Mendota never pulled within five points the rest of the way, and — despite multiple second-half runs — never came closer than eight points after halftime.
“I am just so proud of our kids,” MHS coach Jan Thompson said. “We just have a phenomenal group of guys with great heart. … There’s something to having heart and having pride, and we really showed that.
“I have to say, we got beat by a better team tonight. They were better than us, and that’s going to put my mind at ease and rest knowing that.”
The Rockets (22-9) proved that in the first two minutes as — thanks to its pressure defense — Limestone sprinted to the early lead.
Back-to-back baskets by the Rockets’ Terence Shelby gave Limestone a 4-0 advantage just 53 seconds into the game.
A 3-point shot by Limestone’s Hank Mathews and a layup by Shelby gave the Rockets a 9-0 lead just 1:58 into the contest.
“We were talking about how we were a little more nervous before this game than we were before the (regional final) L-P game,” Gehm said. “It just took a little while for us to settle down, but they were ready to go.”
Despite making runs, Mendota never seriously challenged Limestone the rest of the way.
The Rockets never let the lead slip below five points and held the Trojans to just five second-quarter points in building a 15-point halftime lead that grew to 17 early in the third quarter.
“We took the lead at the beginning of the game and really got some high-percentage shots (in the paint), which is nice to have,” Limestone coach Eddie Mathews said.
Despite Limestone’s 17-point lead early in the third quarter, MHS fought back as back-to-back 3-point shots by Gehm cut the deficit to 43-35 with 1:26 left in the quarter.
However, a 5-1 Rockets run to end the third gave Limestone a 48-36 lead. In the fourth quarter, the Trojans twice cut the deficit to eight, including to 57-49 with 3:04 remaining.
Unfortunately, despite its rallies, the eight-point deficit was as close as MHS got as Limestone sealed the win with free throws down the stretch.
“Our fight and pride and desire to keep battling is just amazing,” Thompson said of his team’s second-half runs. “I wouldn’t have seen that when I first got here, but now it’s amazing how the tides have turned and how the guys have gotten into that mindset.”
Hank Mathews finished with a game-high 22 points for Limestone, while Shelby added 21 points.
Gehm hit five 3-point shots and scored 16 points for MHS, while Trae Blumhorst had team highs of 18 points and seven rebounds.
With the loss, Mendota ends its season at 19-13.
“This (postseason run) has just been so cool,” Gehm said. “It seems like the whole school and the whole town came to watch us. The crowd out there tonight was amazing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Mendota game where there were so many people that were so loud, especially since we’re so far from Mendota. Just to have the whole town follow us and come together was great.”
Notes: With the win, Limestone advances to Friday’s sectional title game at Bradley against the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Galesburg and Peoria . … The semifinals were moved from the campus of Bradley University to Washington High School after Tuesday’s snowstorm pushed the sectional back a day. Tonight’s semifinal could not be held at Bradley since its women’s basketball team plays host to ISU. … Gehm will return to the sectional Friday to represent the Trojans in the Three-Point Showdown.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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