LAWRENCEVILLE — It's survive-and-advance mode throughout the state of Illinois Friday night as tickets were punched for sectional action later this week in Class 1A and 2A.
Like their last meeting, Friday's regional championship between Mount Carmel and Harrisburg came down to one last defensive stop, and in the end, the Aces survived and advanced.
Mount Carmel overcame a late turnover that allowed the Bulldogs a chance to tie or win the game, but Isaiah Saulsberry's attempt at the rim and a last-ditch effort by Dalton Lambert was for not as the Aces advance with a 51-49 victory in Class 2A boys high school basketball regional action.
"That's two good high school basketball teams going at it," said Mount Carmel coach Tyler Buss. "I've got a ton of respect for coach [Randy] Smithpeters and what they do at Harrisburg. To hold [Harrisburg] to 49 points tonight I thought said a lot about the way we defended."
Mount Carmel found themselves down one at the half, and after a 7-0 run by Harrisburg to start the third quarter, coach Buss burned a timeout to settle his team down. The trick worked as the Aces followed the timeout with a 6-0 run and trailed 33-31 with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
"The thing I was most proud of was, our seniors were not going to let this one slip away," said Buss. "When it got to eight points, there's been some years when you look at guy's eyes in the huddle, and it didn't feel right, but tonight it was never a doubt. It was eight points, but let's chip away at this thing and go battle."
With 66 seconds remaining in the third, Brayden Stipp's 3 cut the lead to 37-36 heading into the fourth quarter. Jackson Marcotte — who finished with 11 points on the night, scored Mount Carmel's first three field goals of the quarter.
"He needed the ball inside," said Buss. "I thought he did a good job of posting hard in there inside in the first half and we didn't do a good job of getting him home and give Harrisburg credit for that for taking some things away."
"He came in that third quarter and had some big buckets. He wanted the ball, and we obviously want him to have the ball when he can. I think some of his fatigue-factor played a part in him getting some of those fouls. Give him a lot of credit for gutting it out for us."
Mount Carmel's lead in the fourth quarter reached as much as six points twice during the late stages but Harrisburg battled through to get the game down to one possession with less than five seconds to play.
Blake Drue led all scorers with 17 points while Saulsberry was limited to 14 points.
"The unsung hero of this team all year has been Blake Golden," said Buss. "I don't know how many Saulsberry ended up with, but he earned every single one against Blake.
"Blake, he's a kid that some games doesn't score and doesn't even shoot, and he doesn't care. He's a team guy that wants to win, wants to play great defense [and] rebound. But offensive he made some absolutely huge plays there down the stretch."
The Aces move on to face Effingham (St. Anthony) Tuesday in Robinson. The Bulldogs are the defending Class A champions but moved up to Class 2A this season.
"I thought this group did a nice job the past couple days of being prepared and going through the things we knew that Harrisburg was going to do," said Buss. "It's a load, but our guys are just so excited to get to keep playing. It will be a great couple days of practice to get ready for St. Anthony."
It's the first sectional semifinal. The second is Eldorado taking on Teutopolis, which is scheduled for Wednesday. The winners will move on to Friday's sectional championship. Every game in the sectional is set for 7 o'clock.
"What a loaded sectional," said Buss. "I think any of the four teams up there at Robinson next week could make it to Peoria. We know we have our hands full and we'll get going on St. Anthony and getting our preparation."
Stipp led the Aces with 13 points while Rager finished with 12 points and Marcotte finishing with 11.
Contact Register Sports Editor Paul Wilcoxen at (618) 263-1004, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulwilcoxen