PINCKNEYVILLE — The Pinckneyville Panthers came out blazing, shooting 85 percent in the first quarter to take a 19-point lead en route to crushing Waterloo Gibault, 73-33, to win a fourth straight title Friday night on their home court at the Pinckneyville Class 2A boys basketball regional.
"Winning four straight regional titles is not to be taken for granted," said Pinckneyville coach Bob Waggoner. "People sometimes feel you just can go out and win regionals, but it doesn’t always happen. We went through a drought when we didn’t win one for a few years, so we appreciate each and every one. I was explaining to the kids today that this would be our 56th regional out of 80 seasons, so they would know what a tradition they are part of."
Pinckneyville (28-3) advances to the Trenton Wesclin Sectional on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. against Nashville. The Hornets have eliminated the Panthers the past two seasons in the sectional semifinal game. Last year the Hornets won, 43-40, and in 2016, 47-45.
"Next week is about the opportunity," Waggoner said. "You’re in a special situation with 32 teams left. My biggest thing is looking forward to practice because I get to be with these guys for a few more days."
Senior J.C. Moll finished with a career-high 27 points, which included three 3-pointers, two coming in a 90-second span in the second quarter. Grant Jausel added 14 points and Devin Kitchen 10, including two 3-pointers.
"We’ve been working on shooting for 30 minutes after practice every day and it really paid off," Moll said. "Now we have to take one game at a time and focus on the task at hand."
The Panthers controlled the boards, pulling down 36 rebounds to only 13 for the Hawks. Tanner Spihlmann and Kitchen led the team with six and five, respectively.
Pinckneyville shot 11-of-13 in the first quarter, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc to jump out to a 29-10 lead.
"We put a lot of focus on their scorer and made things tough on them being able to get the ball to him and giving him a hard time getting open looks," Waggoner said. "The game plan was pressure because we thought we could wear them down."
The second quarter was almost as good, with the Panthers making 8-of-16 shots and 2-of-5 from the 3-point line as Pinckneyville expanded its lead to 48-12 at the half.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Panthers were fouling on a regular basis, the Hawks would have been in worse condition. In the first quarter, Gibault shot 3-of-9 from the field and 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, and in the second the Bulldogs took only four threes, missing all of them.
In the first quarter, Gibault went to the line three times, making 3-of-6, and in the second three more times, making 2-of-5.
The Panthers scored 13 points in the first half off of nine Hawks turnovers with six coming off steals, including two by Moll — which he turned into a basket and two free throws — and another by Tyler Rice that Moll made his second 3-pointer in the second quarter.
"We really worked on our defense in practice (to) make them speed it up because they like to play slow," Moll said. "We wanted to force them into turnovers, so we could jump out on top."
The Hawks made only seven shots from the field the entire game, with 18 of their 33 points coming from the line. Huels finished with 15 points, including 6-of-8 from the line.
"Obviously we’re not a good team and not ready to play at that level," said Gibault coach Dennis Rueter. "They jumped on us early and that made it easy for them."
Pinckneyville’s hot shooting continued in the third quarter, sinking 7-of-12 overall and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. With 1:51 remaining Waggoner pulled his starters and at that point the Panthers had made 25-of-40 shots.
The Panthers were leading 64-21 when Waggoner sent in the reserves, who extended the lead to 46 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.