METROPOLIS — Put the clamps on Jase Mizell or Zach Travis for a while? That’s OK, Julian Russell and JJ Sweatt can beat you.
And if you concentrate on Russell or Sweatt, then the likes of Caleb Ramer and Tragen Keyes will step up and burn you.
Massac County’s boys used their characteristic balance and sound defense to pull away from Carterville in the fourth quarter Friday night, resulting in a 62-53 win in the first semifinal of the Superman Classic.
In upping their record to 17-3, the Patriots advanced to Saturday night’s championship game with Charleston (Mo.). The Bluejays dumped previously unbeaten Goreville 83-70 in a lengthy nightcap, using a 13-4 burst to pull away late in the third quarter and then keeping the Blackcats at bay.
Russell’s 14 points led the way, with Travis chipping in 11 and Mizell scoring 10. Four other players added at least five points.
“Different kids stepped up all night, just like this team has done all year long,” said Massac County coach Joe Hosman. “We’ve got seven kids, and we can go deeper. But of those seven, there’s not anyone you can’t guard.”
When the Patriots made their first serious run during the second quarter, it was Mizell who led the charge. He converted a 3-point play off a baseline jumper, then canned a pair of 3-pointers that enabled them to boost a 10-9 lead to 32-23 at intermission.
The Lions (10-9) roared out of the locker room with a purpose in the third quarter. Powerful forward Preston Sumner bulled his way inside to six points and a couple of rebounds, while junior Eli Downen displayed a smooth all-around game with a 3-pointer, a post-up and a pair of free throws.
Carterville actually grabbed a two-point lead late in the period before Travis drained a 3-ball that gave Massac County a 44-43 edge going to the fourth quarter.
“I’ve told the kids before, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Hosman said. “Fight through it, keep playing. Let’s go play eight minutes.”
Sweatt set the tone for the fourth quarter with a steal and a bucket, followed by a 3-point play off a putback for a 49-43 edge. Keyes followed with a 3-ball with 5:41 left for a 52-43 advantage, forcing a Lions timeout.
The margin reached 12 before Carterville made one last run that shaved the deficit to five in the last minute, but Russell and Travis each drained both ends of a one-and-one to wrap it up.
Downen pumped in a game-high 18 points for Carterville and Sumner hit for 10.
Many people assumed Goreville (20-1) would join the Patriots in the title game, but Charleston (14-3) wasted little time showing its chops. The Missourians established a 15-5 first quarter lead, then made telling runs at the end of the second and third periods.
The Blackcats trimmed a 10-point deficit to 27-26 late in the second quarter, but the Bluejays went on a 12-3 spurt to take a 39-29 lead to intermission.
Goreville stepped it up on the defensive end in the first four minutes of the third quarter, slicing the deficit to 46-44 on a putback by Trent Glidewell. But the Blackcats found trouble on the next possession, committing four fouls and giving up a layup to 6-6 center Blessin Kimble.
The bigger issue came later in the period as Charleston went off on another run, upping its advantage to 59-48. That proved insurmountable in a marathon fourth quarter as Goreville could creep no closer than eight.
“The first quarter was big,” Blackcats coach Todd Tripp said. “We gave up 23 points and that’s not like us. And the free throws hurt us.”
Senior guard Samuel Bledsoe bombed in six 3-pointers and scored a game-high 29 points for the Bluejays. Nick Compton paced the Blackcats with 18 points, while Landon Albright added 15. Goreville was shaky at the foul line, missing eight in a row to start the night and converting just 18 of 33 attempts.