PEORIA — For the second straight game, the Pinckneyville boys basketball team fell in a big hole in the second half. And Bob Waggoner’s squad made it mighty interesting down the stretch once again.
Bloomington Central Catholic finished the game on a 5-0 run during the final minute and change to defeat Pinckneyville, 69-61, Saturday in the IHSA State Tournament’s Class 2A third place contest.
Pinckneyville trailed by 17 points, 42-25, with 4:53 left in the third quarter. Fast forward to the final 80 seconds of the game, and Grant Jausel made a bucket to slice the Saints’ lead to just 64-61.
But the Panthers simply ran out of time.
“I’ve got five guys up here that are like my sons,” Waggoner said at the postgame press conference. “I love them to death. We’ve been together for four years. Today is the first day that we’ve known it’s the end. So, the game doesn’t really matter.”
It was pretty easy to tell how much the 2017-18 Panthers meant to Waggoner, who had five players with him for the presser. Waggoner was emotional when talking about this close-knit group.
The Panthers (31-5) didn’t play well in the first half, but about halfway through the third quarter everything changed. Pinckneyville sliced its deficit from 17 to 9 with 1:20 left in the period.
Kyle Luke scored seven straight points for Pinckneyville to open the fourth quarter, which offset the hot shooting of Bloomington Central Catholic’s Austyn Ellison. Luke helped his team get within seven points.
J.C. Moll racked up five straight points, and Pinckneyville was down just four points with 4:35 left in the game.
“It’s important to be a Panther,” Waggoner said. “It’s important to our community. These kids grow up dreaming of being here. They fulfilled a dream that most people only dream about. They lived it today and this weekend.”
The Saints shot just under 60 percent from the field for the game. Ellison delivered 22 points, including four made shots from downtown. Eljah Davis tallied 15 points as well.
Jausel paced Pinckneyville with 16 points, and Dawson Yates added 12. Luke tallied 13 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes of action.
“There was no way we were going to go off that floor without giving everything that we had,” Waggoner said. “It’s a great honor for us everyday to get to play in our gym and show up on the road and have a home court advantage. It’s special.”
Pinckneyville returns home Sunday for an assembly at the high school around 1:30 p.m.