ROBINSON — Two teams will be left to face each other Friday night to advance to the Super-Sectional.
Tuesday night, Mount Carmel punched its ticket to the sectional championship by eliminating St. Anthony — the defending Class A state champs who were playing up a class because of the IHSA's success factor — 78-66, at the Robinson boys high school basketball Sectional.
"We'll take them any way we can get them," said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. "It was a great job by our guys."
The Aces will now play the winner of Eldorado against Teutopolis. That game will be played Wednesday at 7 PM.
Mount Carmel won wire to wire and led by as much as 18 points but found themselves fighting to stave off the Bulldogs at the end.
"Things got crazy there late, but they hung on and got their composure back," said Buss. "What a way to finish it. I don't know what we shot from the line, but it felt pretty good at the time. I'm sure we missed a bunch, but I know we shot a bunch. I keep saying we're going to make them when they could and we did that tonight."
St. Anthony pulled to within five points after a 3 from Alex Beesley with under three minutes to play.
"It's all about them making shots when they get going from 3," said Buss. "They really ramped up their pressure. Again, you've just got to be strong with it on the front end, and if you can be strong with it on the front end, you can get great looks on the back end. I'm just happy for our guys to battle through there that crazy fourth quarter and we get to go back to practice tomorrow night, and that's the best part."
Brayden Stipp helped the Aces extend their lead with a 3-point play with 1:47 left in the game. Stipp led all scorers with 26 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the floor and 11-for-13 from the free throw line.
"He's pretty good," proclaimed Buss. "Any coaches that were here... the IBCA will vote here pretty soon on all-state awards. We've got a couple of quality guys that could be in that category. Anybody that's watched our group the last two years knows how good Brayden Stipp is. He's every bit deserving of being in that mix."
Another 3 from Beesley pulled the Bulldogs within 10 with 1:21 left but it was too little too late for St. Anthony.
"That four quarter was crazy, but I thought, other than that, our guys did a tremendous job on the defensive end," said Buss. "That's as balanced of a team that we've seen all year. For us to really come out and stiffle them for the better part of that first half and into the third quarter was huge for us. Once we got the lead, we just wanted to start chopping it up into four-minute little segments there. Win this four minutes, win the next four minutes, and I thought our guys did a nice job of doing that."
The loss ends St. Anthony's season at 27-4. The Bulldogs will graduate seven of their players in May.
"Very few teams are able to keep us from getting to the hoop and getting putbacks," said Bulldogs' coach Cody Rincker. "They've got Golden listed as 6-4, I don't believe it. He's long and athletic. They've got four guys like that and Stipp's got long arms. Their length really affected our shots. You saw a bunch of blocks in the first half, even on 3-point shots. Their length and their size was a key factor tonight."
The Aces never trailed after leading 8-0 to start the contest. Mount Carmel extended its lead to 15-7 at the end of the first quarter and then 32-19 at the break.
Three players finished in double figures for the Aces. Behind Stipp's 26 points, Jackson Marcotte scored 18 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field and 10-for-13 shooting from the free throw line.
Austin Rager was 5-for-8 shooting from the floor and 6-for-6 from the free throw line to end the game with 16 points.
Of the 11 losses by Mount Carmel this season, only four were from Illinois teams. On Friday, the Aces will have the opportunity to avenge one of those losses. Mount Carmel's first loss of the season came at the Capital Classic in Nov. when the Aces lost the championship to the Wooden Shoes in overtime, 72-70. Then, in early January, Mount Carmel suffered a 66-49 road loss to then-undefeated Eldorado.
Buss says he can see signs of this year's team having the same winning attitude of last year's squad, which advanced to the championship of Class 2A.
"We told them in the locker room that last year's group had a trend that, the bigger the game as we advance the better we kept playing," said Buss. "This group right now is trending that direction. We know we're a much different team than we were when we played Eldorado in January and we know we're a much, much different team than when we played T-town in November. I'm sure it will be a phenomenal game, but we'll get down here to watch it and come up with a great plan and try to come down here and get back to Carbondale."
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Mount Carmel's Brayden Peterson will attempt to advance to the Class 2A 3-point shootout Friday before the sectional championship game. Individuals advancing out of sectional action will move on to Carver Arena in Peoria next weekend.
Contact Register Sports Editor Paul Wilcoxen at (618) 263-1004, email@example.com, or on Twitter @paulwilcoxen