HARRISBURG — The celebration was a bit more subdued this year.
The Thompsonville Tigers won their first Greater Egyptian Conference tournament championship last year, setting off a raucous celebration in Southeastern Illinois College’s Deaton Gymnasium.
This time around, the 21-2 Tigers were favorites. They went about their business, leading from wire-to-wire in a 49-35 win over Gallatin County.
Gallatin County appeared to want to take the air out of the ball at the outset, winning the tip and holding the ball for over a minute without attacking the basket. That strategy got sidelined early when Robbie Price was called for a charge on the first possession.
Thompsonville’s Grady Furlow immediately made the Hawks pay, draining a 3-pointer on the Tigers first possession.
The Hawks again appeared content to hold the basketball, but another charging foul, this on one Garrett Rushing gave the ball back to Thompsonville. Anthony Darge cashed in, scoring from close range to put the Tigers up 7-0.
“The kids came out and had a great start,” said Thompsonville coach Pete Gordon. “We definitely wanted to get off to a great start. We had great execution, especially at the offensive end.”
Trailing early, Gallatin County had to take a more conventional approach. Thompsonville opened a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter when Corbin Fitch scored in the paint. A five-point run by Gallatin County’s Gunner Wilson cut the Thompsonville lead to five.
The Tigers maintained a 22-13 lead at intermission.
Thompsonville continued to build on the lead as the game wore on, leading 34-16 when Darge converted a putback with a half a minute left in the third quarter.
Gallatin County took a late run at the Tigers, narrowing the gap to 42-31 on a pair of Garrett Rushing free throws with 2:18 left. Thompsonville had not shot a free throw to that point, but Payton Roberts hit four in a row to keep the Hawks at bay.
Corbin Fitch led Thompsonville with 14 points and Darge had 12. However, Darge played a much bigger role on the defensive end with numerous blocked shots and defensive rebounds.
“Darge was big tonight,” Gordon said. “So big.
“He erased a lot of mistakes. We’d get beat off the bounce and there he was. We wanted to put him in a position where he could do that.”
Dawson Hish scored a dozen for Gallatin County, the only Hawks player in double figures.
In the third place game, Pope County surrendered a big lead late, then held on to win 34-33 when Matthew Davis hit a free throw with half a second on the clock.
Crab Orchard took the consolation trophy with a 68-45 win over Galatia.