BY AARON PATTERSON email@example.com
---- — CATLIN —The last time the Chrisman Cardinals and the Shiloh Raiders met, Chrisman senior guard Wyatt Avenatti wasn’t exactly pleased with his performance. In fact, neither was his head coach, Greg Gisinger. And Gisinger let the three-year starter know about it.
Avenatti listened, and in Monday’s Class 1A (Catlin) Salt Fork Regional opener, he did exactly what his coach asked him to do.
“We played them earlier in the season, and I didn’t have my best game,” Avenatti said. “Actually, I had one of my worst games. Coach Gisinger got me and told me that’s not the player that I am. I need to be a lockdown defender. That’s the reason I get playing time.
“So, I locked him down and tried my best. I was pretty happy that he didn’t score until the last two minutes or so.”
Avenatti was referring to Shiloh standout shooting guard Cyrus Furgeson who was held scoreless until the junior hit a three with one minute, 23 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Those were Furgeson’s first points of the game.
The defensive effort the Cardinals displayed against the Raiders not only shut down Furgeson (four points, two rebounds) who averages nearly 20 points per game, but helped them to a 62-52 win. Chrisman will next take on top-seeded Milford in Wednesday’s 6 p.m. semifinal.
“We really worked hard the last two practices on locking them down,” said Avenatti, who had six of Chrisman’s 10 steals. “We knew they had two, maybe three good offensive players. Coach told us that if we just kept our defense up, our offense would come, no matter how long it took. He told us throughout the season we would make shots when we needed it to happen, and we did.”
Gisinger said the Cardinals (19-8 overall) practiced defense for 45 minutes straight on Saturday in preparation for Monday’s game. And defense proved to be perhaps more important that initially thought.
Chrisman missed its first eight shots of the game before Ty Bolen’s basket with 2:40 to go in the first quarter. Shiloh took a 12-3 lead, and shots simply weren’t falling for the Cardinals. But defense kept them in the game, and by halftime they trailed only 21-18.
Though Gisinger attests only a few adjustments were made at halftime, the Cardinals went on a 28-4 run in the third and fourth quarters during a stretch that had the Raiders (20-8) on their heels for 8:36.
“We didn’t really make many adjustments for the second half,” Gisinger said. “We thought we had good shots, and we saw some things that we could try to exploit with the size of our guards and our penetration.
“We made a few adjustments defensively at halftime, but we got them locked up. (Avenatti) just locked the kid down. The kid was averaging 20 points a game, and we did a good job on team defense.”
Bolen scored seven of his game-high 23 points during the momentum-shifting run. Tyler Owen’s basket midway through the third gave Chrisman its final lead of the game at 27-26, and was followed by back-to-back threes from Avenatti (10 points) and Austin Merritt (seven points, three rebounds).
To that point, despite his defensive effort, Avenatti was scoreless. Ironically, the basket came just after he was forced to change his uniform because an official saw blood on his No. 20 jersey. By the end of the time out, Avenatti was wearing No. 31, the jersey of former Chrisman sharpshooter and current assistant coach, Cody Owen.
“Who knows? It could be the luck of Cody Owen,” Avenatti said. “That’s his jersey. I just felt like my team, we were rotating the ball very nicely and I just got the ball wide open, got my feet set, and shot the ball.
“I feel like it wasn’t just the guys that were out on the court,” he added, speaking of the third-quarter run. “Our whole team, our fans, everybody was really getting intense. They really wanted us to win this game. The help defense, the guys helping over to mob passes was just phenomenal.”
The final dagger came early in the fourth when, on defense, Merritt deflected the ball to Avenatti who tossed a lead pass to sophomore Tyler Owen (seven points, six rebounds) who finished the fastbreak with a dunk that brought the Cardinals’ faithful to their feet. Avenatti followed it with his second three of the game, and Bolen drained his second trey off another turnover to give Chrisman a 50-31 lead.
In addition to his offense, Bolen had three steals, and Tyler Lunger and Dalton Hoult each scored six. In all, Chrisman’s bench outscored Shiloh’s reserves 14-2.
After coming so close to a Vermilion Valley Conference title, the Cardinals are now focused on the prospects of winning their first regional title since 2011.
“We’ve got to work hard again tomorrow,” Gisinger said. “Milford is a different team. They are a very good team and very well coached, so we are going to have to bring it on Wednesday. Our goal wasn’t to win this game, our goal is to win the whole thing.”