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High School Highlights
It's Heart Of Illinois Conference/McLean County Tournament time again. The 108th annual event starts Saturday at El Paso Gridley High School with opening round action and runs through to a girls’ championship game and a boys’ championship game, both at Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus on Saturday, Jan. 26. The tourney will take its customary break on Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Former local broadcaster L. A. Decker has served as public address announcer for the entire tourney at Shirk for a number of years now and has taken the pulse of the event for some time, predicting which teams will get furthest. The one thing Decker does not do, however, is predict who will win championship games. He said upholding that personal policy helps him maintain objectivity. He does, however, almost sound like a pro scout at times in his analysis which helps novice fans and students of the game know what is going on with local teams.
Lexington Girls Seeded Third: Decker points to the girls’ teams seeded first and second in the tournament as being “head and shoulders above” the remaining teams in the field. Those would be top seed Eureka (19-2 overall and 10-0 HOIC) and second seed Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley (17-4 overall and 8-1 HOIC). But coming right behind them are the Lexington Lady Minutemen (13-2 overall and 7-1 HOIC), earning the third seed. The key to Eureka is, according to Decker, “They don’t rebuild when they have new players. They retool.”
“Lexington could surprise some people,” Decker said, adding they would not be the only team to do so, saying the same about fourth seeded Ridgeview. Lexington has only lost a conference game and a non-conference game so far. “The Minutemen girls are definitely the surprise team from what I have seen in the records,” Decker said. The Ridgeview Mustangs were 15-4 overall and 7-1 Conference at this writing.
The Lady Minutemen recently lost to Dwight, a loss which halted a 9-game winning streak for head coach Bill Elias’ crew.
“Tremont beat LeRoy Jan. 8,” Decker reminded. “That vaulted the Turks ahead of LeRoy in the standings.
Decker said he sees Elias’ team in the final four of the tournament, along with the other top three seeds, but cautions either Deer Creek-Mackinaw or El Paso Gridley could sneak in to disrupt the scenario. With all the first round games at EPG Saturday, eighth seed Flanagan-Cornell will face ninth seed Heyworth to open the tournament on Saturday at 11:30a.m. Fourth seed Ridgeview hosts 13th seed Fisher at 1p.m. Fifth seed Dee-Mack hosts 12th seed Tri-Valley at 2:30p.m. Seventh seed EPG hosts 10th seed LeRoy at 4p.m. Sixth seed Fieldcrest takes on 11th seed Tremont to close out the day at 5:30p.m.
Decker said he “sees the chalk holding up” meaning the top four seeds survive their challenges, with Eureka facing GCMS for the title.
LeRoy Boys Seeded Fifth: GCMS is the top seed in the Boys’ Tournament bracket, with the Falcons owning a 15-2 record as of Sunday, including a perfect 7-0 conference mark. Deer Creek-Mackinaw is seeded second at 15-3 and 4-0 conference, and Tremont is seeded third. The Turks have a 15-4 overall record which includes being 4-2 in conference play. LeRoy, the fifth seed, has the highest seed in the Boys’ bracket of county schools, just below fourth seed Fieldcrest. While that won’t be seen as encouraging to some readers of this column, Decker said LeRoy (9-4 overall and 6-1 Conference as of this writing) should not be overlooked or counted out once play begins.
Head coach Rodney Kellar’s Ridgeview Mustangs are 10-8 overall and 3-4 in conference, and seeded ninth in the tournament. They are slated to take on eight seed Downs Tri-Valley to start the day Saturday at 11:30a.m. Lexington boys, seeded 13th, will open the tournament against fourth seed Fieldcrest Saturday at 1p.m. LeRoy’s fifth seed puts them against 12th seed Fisher in a 2:30p.m. matchup. Seventh seed Eureka meets 10th seed Flanagan-Cornell in a 4p.m. contest. Sixth seed EPG finishes the day at 5:30p.m. against 11th seed Heyworth.
Although they are the last single-digit seed, Decker said, he doesn’t know if that makes the Mustangs a longshot or the wild card in the race. He added Tremont is likely the team to watch because the Turks “have spoiled a few parties for teams” when on the court this year.
Lexington’s boys’ team has struggled in the early season, Decker said. The Minutemen as of Sunday were 7-11 overall and winless in six tries in conference play. Last season, the Minutemen “held their own,” as Decker explained it, against HOIC opponents but have yet to demonstrate that skill this season. Decker predicts GCMS and Tremont will square off for the championship.
Regardless of who wins, there will be bragging rights attained for the winners, disappointment and possibly a few tears shed by the defeated, but the games and their outcomes will at least give us a week where we can try to take our minds off of any winter blahs.
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