DU QUOIN — Bryce Bultman didn’t mess around Wednesday night.
His Nashville teammates took their cue from him, ending the feel-good story of a West Frankfort team that was playing its first sectional game in 12 years.
Bultman scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter as the top-ranked Hornets methodically drummed the Redbirds out of the 2A Du Quoin Sectional 54-31 in Anders Gym.
Nashville (32-2) takes on Alton Marquette Friday night at 7 p.m. for the sectional title and a berth in Tuesday night’s Super-Sectional at SIU Arena. West Frankfort closes out its first season under Evan Wyllie with a 21-11 record – its first 20-win season since its last regional title in 2007.
“I was attacking the basket and finding open lanes,” Bultman said of his fast start. “It’s always good to jump on a team early, because then you kill their confidence. It rolls into the rest of the game. They just don’t think they can stop you.”
Few teams around could get a handle on the first quarter version of Bultman, a 6-5 senior who will play at Division II McKendree the next four years. Bultman sure looked the part of a college-bound player, using his size, ball-handling skills and strength to get to the basket when needed, while knocking down open jumpers when left alone.
The game’s first 93 seconds set an immediate tone. The Redbirds got the opening tip but couldn’t convert the opportunity. The Hornets stung West Frankfort with buckets on their first three possessions, Bultman contributing a 3-point play and a layup off a steal.
Before the Redbirds could score a bucket, Wyllie did what no coach wants to do – call a timeout. His team was already down seven points.
“Being down seven to Nashville,” Wyllie sagely noted, “is like being down more than seven points.”
That’s because the Hornets’ highly-hyped defense rarely fails to live up to expectations. They don’t do a lot of exotic things, but what they do, they could just about patent. Most opponents try to move the ball and create good shots, but Nashville’s lateral movement and length is so good that after a while, opponents settle for bad shots after tiring of fighting for good ones.
The Redbirds were no exception, even with a roster of players capable of sinking shots beyond the arc or beating defenders off the bounce. They managed just four field goals on 17 first half shots and grabbed only one offensive board, coming on a ball that went off a Hornet out of bounds.
Despite committing just four turnovers and limiting Nashville to seven second quarter points, West Frankfort still trailed 25-10 at the half. It was, perhaps, the basketball equivalent of being three runs down in the ninth and watching Mariano Rivera come out of the Yankees’ bullpen.
Good night, game over, drive home safely.
“Except for giving up a couple of backcuts, I thought we guarded well,” Hornets coach Wayne Harre said. “We’ll have to work on that.”
The Redbirds managed a bit more success in the second half as guard Cole Levanti scored nine of his 11 points, but never put any real game pressure on Nashville. With Carson Parker (13 points) and Kelton Harre (10) joining Bultman in double figures, the Hornets never let the lead dip below 13 points.
When both teams cleared the bench with just over a minute left, it was a rare night when both sets of fans cheered. Nashville’s did so to applaud a job well done. West Frankfort’s clapped to thank their team for a season it hasn’t had in more than a decade.
“You can’t say enough about the season we’ve had,” Wyllie said. “To go from six wins to 21 wins and a regional championship, it’s hopefully set the tone for where we want the program to go, no doubt.”
Senior C.J. Johnson added 10 points for the Redbirds, which had just four players dent the scoring column.