MOUNT VERNON — The Centralia Orphans put their seven-game winning streak up against the five-game streak of the home town Mount Vernon Rams, and when the dust settled on New Changnon Gymnasium, the Orphans survived a big fourth-quarter rally to win, 70-64, and advance to the finals of the 3A boys basketball regional.
"They did a good job of scoring late, but we made our free throws very well," said Centralia coach Lee Bennett. "They can hit the shot and get to the rim both. Zach Williams and O’Shea Hardin can do that. We didn’t get the stops we needed and we got bulldogged a little bit going to the rim. But our guys did a good job of executing and Javon (Williams, Jr.) did a good job of finishing."
Centralia (23-4) will play on Friday at 7 p.m., against the winner of tonight's second semifinal between Murphysboro and Salem.
"We’re going to play another good team with a really good record, so it’s going to be a good challenge," Bennett said.
Williams, Jr. led the Orphans with a career-high 36 points, including 15-of-18 from the free throw line. Johnathan Keeler added 12 points and Bryan Meskil 10.
"You have to knock the free throws down, so fundamentals are always key," Williams said.
The Orphans made 33-of-40 free throws, while the Rams were only 11-of-22 from the charity stripe.
The Rams took a 13-9 lead into the second on a last second 3-pointer by the Zach Williams. Centralia's Javon Williams, Jr. took over soon after, scoring 15 of the Orphans' 21 second-quarter points to give Centralia a 30-22 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the half. Once again, though, the Rams scored on a 3-pointer at the buzzer — this time by Lukas Cooper — to cut the lead to five.
The Orphans expanded their lead to 13 points in the third quarter with 1:02 remaining, but the Rams cut four points off the lead on a basket by Zach Williams followed by a steal by Dakarai Pelton that led to a basket by Jackson Creel. But Bryan Meskil was fouled seven seconds later and made both free throws to give the Orphans an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
After the Rams cut the lead to nine on a in-bounds tip-in by Amir Spann, Centralia expanded its lead to 15 points with 5:41 remaining on two free throws by Meskil followed by two free throws and a basket from under the net by Williams, Jr.
The Rams then began a run with back-to-back 3-pointers by Hardin, but it stalled for 36 seconds when Jordan Maines was sent to the line and the senior forward made all four of his free throws.
The lead was at 12 with 3:32 remaining when the Rams made their final run, started by a layup by Weston Brockhouse while being fouled, but he missed his free throw. Brockhouse and Zach Williams led the Rams with 17 points each.
Pelton then scored on an in-bounds play. After the Orphans got a point back on a free throw by Jamie Long Brockhouse went to the line again and this time made both his free throws. Cooper then stole the ball near mid-court and fed Brockhouse for a layup to cut the lead to five.
A 3-point play by Keeler stopped the rally, but Zach Williams got it going again when he drew a foul, but he split his two free throws. However, Pelton stole the ball and passed to Cooper, who swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key, to finish a 20-9 run in a span of 2:45 that cut the 15-point lead down to four with 1:56 remaining.
During the run the Rams kept losing players, as Spann, Hardin, Pelton and Brockhouse fouled out. The Orphans went to the line three straight times and made 7-of-8 free throws to expand the lead back to 10 with 25 seconds left.
"It was a good game," said Mount Vernon coach Doug Creel. "A lot of times when they get you down you can’t get back in it. But we did a good job of making them turn it over a little bit and that’s kind of uncharacteristic of them. Javon’s a big difference maker. When we got down by eight we started pressuring their guards and that left him alone down in the block."