Hiltoppers Take Title Over Panthers At Carlinville

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A full house in the Big House (the main gym in Carlinville High School) had to be satisfied with the thirty-two minutes of shoot-and-score basketball action as they watched Hillsboro defeat Litchfield 79-65 to claim the title in the boys’ side of the Carlinville Holiday Tournament Thursday evening, Dec. 30. It seemed closer than the fourteen point final margin, close enough that fans of both teams will mark their conference date in Litchfield on Friday, Feb. 8, as a must-see game.

The Toppers, seeded first in the eight-team tournament despite a 5-6 record entering the sessions, used a strong inside game (Gavin Matoush had 19 points and Blaze Helton had 14) and a variety of accurate shooting moves by Drake Vogel (68% as he made five of seven shots inside the arc, including jump stop jump shots as well as layups, and eight of twelve threes–most taken at long range–while amassing 38 points.

Hillsboro needed every one of those points, though, because Purple Panther Victor McGill penetrated and twisted his way to 33 points, 20 in the third quarter alone. Keenan Powell, like McGill a sophomore, kept Litchfield close in the first half with ten of his 17 points; McGill dominated the second half. Luckily for Hillsboro, each time a Panther would score, someone from Hillsboro would answer with a three.

The Panthers were quick enough as a defensive team to force eleven Hillsboro turnovers in the second half, and they weren’t of the unforced variety. Hillsboro also forced Litchfield turnovers, but mostly in the first half before McGill took matters into his own hands, literally, as he would take the in-bounds passes and dribble downcourt through whatever defense Hillsboro employed until he made a shot. 

Hillsboro junior point guard Will Christian defended tirelessly; then, in the fourth quarter, while the possibility of an enemy comeback seemed still possible, he sank two threes of his own when defensive attention shifted to his teammates. Other critical performances came from Matoush, who overpowered defenders (the Panthers used a 1-2-2 zone press and dropped into a quick-flowing 1-2-2 around the lane area when the press was broken) to score 13 first half points. His post-playing mate Helton, who compensates for the lack of height most posts have by imposing his will in the game with his linebacker/fullback strength, added nine of his 13 in the second quarter, so the Panthers knew they needed to defend the post better in the second half as they trailed 37-25 after the first 16 minutes.

That really opened the outside for Vogel, who had six of his tournament record-tying eight threes in the second half. Fans could see his confidence grow with every make; because he is 6’3’’ with a good vertical jump, Litchfield had no way to defend him for the last 16 minutes.

Still, thanks primarily to Powell and McGill, the Purple Panthers hung close, even outscoring Hillsboro by a point in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter A.J. Odle and Tate Dobrinic dropped in threes for the appreciative Panther fans, but Helton drew a charge, Jace Stewart made two of three free throws, and Deklan Riggs secured an important offensive rebound with 70 seconds to play to ensure a longer Topper possession.

Litchfield, seeded #2, gave the Toppers an exciting, crowd-pleasing effort despite their youth (they started four sophomores and one junior). Vogel’s eight threes tied the single game tournament record, set by Carrollton’s Tim Brannon in 1989. The tournament record for threes is 16; Vogel had 13 but an injury meant he didn’t play or score in two games. It was Hillsboro’s fifth title; other championships came in 1977, 1985, 1997, 1998, and 2015. In 2019 Hillsboro defeated Gillespie for third; there was no tournament last year.

Litchfield’s titles came in 2003 and 2012. Their record for their years of participation, after going 3-1 over the four day event is now 60-36; the Toppers are 52-19.

Making the 2021 All-Tournament team from Litchfield were McGill and Powell; Toppers chosen were Christian, Matoush, and Vogel, who won that distinction despite playing in only two games.

The two teams might meet again in the Litchfield Invitational (Jan. 15 through Jan. 21) and/or the regional tournament in late February, but they definitely will play a South Central game in Litchfield Feb. 8.

Until then, the Toppers go to Waverly this Friday, Jan. 7; the junior varsity starts at 6 p.m. The next home game is against North Mac on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Litchfield plays at Mt. Olive tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 4, and at Staunton in a conference game on Friday, Jan. 7.

Dec. 29 at Carlinville

Carlinville Holiday Tournament

Hillsboro 17 20 22 20 79

Litchfield 10 15 23 17 65

Hillsboro (79) - Drake Vogel 36, Gavin Matoush 19, Blaze Helton 14, Will Christian 6, Jace Stewart 4. Totals: 30 9-12 79.

Litchfield (65) - Victor McGill 33, Keenan Powell 17, A.J. Odle 7, Tate Dobrinich 3, Bryce Hires 3, Carson Saathoff 2. Totals: 23 13-15 65.

Three-point field goals: Hillsboro 10 (Vogel 8, Christian 2); Litchfield 5 (Odle 2, McGill 1, Dobrinich 1, Powell 1).

Records: Hillsboro (9-6); Litchfield (6-6).

Carlinville Holiday 

Boys Tournament

Green Pool: #2 Litchfield (3-0), #3 Carlinville (1-2), #6 Calhoun (1-2), #7 Bunker Hill (2-1)

Red Pool: #1 Hillsboro (3-0), #4 East Alton-Wood River (2-1), #5 Staunton (0-3), #8 Gillespie (1-2)

Monday, December 27

• EAWR 57, Staunton 50

• Hillsboro 89, Gillespie 38

• Litchfield 55,  Bunker Hill 44

• Carlinville 52, Calhoun 32

Tuesday, December 28

• EAWR 75, Gillespie 68

• Litchfield 73, Calhoun 65

• Bunker Hill 34, Carlinville 32

• Hillsboro 51, Staunton 40

Wednesday, December 29

• Gillespie 46, Staunton 44

• Bunker Hill 41, Calhoun 26

• Hillsboro 63, EAWR 56

• Litchfield 56, Carlinville 49

Thursday, December 30

7th Place: Staunton 54, Calhoun 31

5th Place: Carlinville 52, Gillespie 27

3rd Place: Bunker Hill 50, East Alton-Wood River 44

1st Place: Hillsboro 79, Litchfield 65

All-Tournament Team: Aaron Wills, Sr. - Carlinville; Grant Burch, Jr. - Bunker Hill; Antonio Hardin, Sr. - East Alton-Wood River; Victor McGill, So. - Litchfield; Keenan Powell, So. - Litchfield; Will Christian, Jr. - Hillsboro; Gavin Matoush, Sr. - Hillsboro; Drake Vogel, Sr. - Hillsboro

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