BY AARON PATTERSON
By the time the respective boys teams took the floor at Palmer Arena Saturday night for the finale of the Third Annual Battle for the Border basketball competition, it was clear the Western Indiana All-Stars had won their second title. With the Western Indiana girls pushing the collective point total to a commanding 15-point lead with only 13 possible points left to be earned, the boys Western Indiana All-Stars and Eastern Illinois All-Stars were left to play for pride.
When state bragging rights are on the line, that might be the only motivation needed. Pride ultimately won out for the Hoosier state as the Western Indiana All-Stars made it a clean sweep of all four games when the boys’ squad defeated Eastern Illinois 49-45 Saturday night.
“(It was) very important,” Terre Haute South product Jeffrey Turner said. “We won last night, but if they had won tonight, there would have been talk of, ‘Well, we should have played another one or a tie-breaker.’ To sweep them is more of an accomplishment than the point system.”
Eastern Illinois led 24-19 at halftime and held a three-point lead late in the third quarter. But just like in Friday’s contest, Western Indiana used a momentum-shifting play at the end of the third period to take the lead and eventually secure the win.
Eastern Illinois had just tied the game at 38-38 on a pair of free throws by Mahomet-Seymour’s Brad Herrmann. But Southmont’s Drake Cooksey used his speed to sprint down the court and make an uncontested layup with one second left to give Western Indiana a 40-38 lead going into the final period.
It was the beginning of a 7-0 run for Western Indiana that included a three by North Montgomery’s Jordan McFall on a second-chance opportunity that pushed the lead to 45-38.
Eastern Illinois used a 7-1 run late to pull to within 47-45 on a three by Westville’s Robert Elliott and four free throws by Herrmann, but came up short on multiple opportunities in the final minute.
Chase Patton (St. Joseph-Ogden) and Alex Rabe (Cissna Park) each had steals in the final minute of the game, each time trailing by only two. Instead of scoring to tie the game or take the lead, missed shots and turnovers cost Eastern Illinois a chance at getting the win.
“At the end, I wanted to get us to the basket,” Eastern Illinois coach John Spezia said. “That’s why I put (Robert) Elliott back in so we could have some quicker guys. We made a couple of defensive stops. We wanted to get back to the rim and get to the free throw line. We were in a bonus situation. If we shoot a one-and-one, we have a chance to win the game.”
Herrmann led Eastern Illinois with 13 points and six rebounds while Schlarman Academy’s Austin Calhoun finished with 12 points, four rebounds and two assists. Elliott scored seven and had six boards.
Cooksey (12 points) and Turner (18 points, 13 rebounds, three steals) were Western Indiana’s only two players to reach double figures.
The sweep pulls Western Indiana and Eastern Illinois even at three game wins each in the competition’s three years.
“It was just a pride thing,” Calhoun said of Eastern Illinois’ effort in the loss. “It’s Indiana versus Illinois on the border. It’s pretty competitive on both sides so we just wanted to come out and win.
“It was really cool to come out and play with these guys,” he added. “I’ve known them competitively, but I had never played with them. It was just really nice getting some quality players together and playing two good games.”
The final point total was 39-15 in favor of Western Indiana.