PEKIN — The Alton Redbirds knew it was going to be a tough task to knock off the Normal Community Ironmen on Friday in the Class 4A Pekin Sectional finals. In the end it became an unreachable task, despite a late attempt at a comeback, as the Redbirds lost 48-36.
With the loss, Alton ends its season at 27-5, tying a school record for wins and a victory short of its fifth sectional title in school history. The Ironmen elevated their record to 31-1 and secured the fifth sectional title in their school's history.
“They're a pretty good basketball team,” AHS head coach Eric Smith said. “They're pretty effective in the things that they do. They're big kids (Tyler Seibring and Alex Peacock) are quite a combo.”
Seibring, 6-foot-8 senior who is committed to Elon College in North Carolina led the way with 14 points, while fellow 6-7 senior Alex Peacock contributed 13. Peacock is garnering interest from SIUE, Carbondale and Loyola of Chicago. They were the only scorers to reach double digits in the game.
“Last year we got beat in (the sectional finals) and we had a bunch of juniors and all those guys you saw playing tonight were playing last year against Edwardsville and we got beat by three (56-53) in a tough loss,” Normal head coach Dave Witzig said. “We knew we were going to have a competitive team and I just thought our guys had a great year and they continued it tonight.”
Seibring and Peacock set the tone right out of the gate with Seibring nailing a 3-pointer and Peacock sinking a short jumper to make it 5-0. The Ironmen never relinquished the lead throughout the game.
“That was real good because we've got to get our shots and get ourselves going,” Peacock said. “It gets everybody else going, it gets everybody involved and that's how we get our points.”
The hot shooting continued for Normal in the first quarter, as the Ironmen hit 6 of 7 shots from the field. The Redbirds on the other side struggled, hitting just 2 of 15 first-quarter shots and found themselves in a 13-4 hole at the close of the opening frame.
“We didn't necessarily stick to what has made us successful,” Smith said. “We drive and we kind of got away from that a little bit. We got into the paint, but we kind of settled a little bit more on jump shots.”
Alton did a better job of slowing the Ironmen in the second quarter, but still only shot 4 of 13 from the field to finish the first half down 22-14. The Birds shot just 6 of 28, or 21 percent for the opening half.
“They came at us with a lot of intensity and our guys matched it on the defensive rebounding,” Witzig said. “You've got to give Alton credit for getting into the paint and getting shots and rebounds, but fortunately for us they were not scoring some of those second, third, fourth chances and we got some breaks there.”
The Ironmen continued their dominance in the third quarter. They closed the third stanza on a 12-3 spurt, capped by a big 3-pointer by Seibring on a kick out from Peacock to give Normal a 38-21 lead entering the final eight minutes.
That lead proved to be crucial, as Alton comprised a valiant attempt at a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Redbirds kicked off the final eight minutes with an 11-1 run to cut it to a seven-point deficit at 39-32.
Carlos Anderson hit a shot and a free throw to get the spurt started and Isaiah Thurmond capped it with a pair of treys and a 2-point field goal. That run, coupled with a stingy Alton defense forcing Normal into five turnovers had AHS looking to make a game of it with just 4:37 left.
“They go a little fast, but fortunately for us we play in a conference that does that with Peoria Manual, Peoria Central and we played East St. Louis. We played a lot of games like that so fortunately for us we've been in those situations and we were able to handle it just well enough.”
Smith added, “There was no way were going to be able to do that for a whole game. They're just too good. We got it back a little bit, but once they settled down they were pretty effective. But we made a nice little run and the most important part is our kids didn't lay down. They fought to the bitter end and they kept swinging. That makes us proud of what the kids have accomplished this year and the way it ended.”
Normal was able to get to the line a lot down the stretch making Alton's comeback attempt a little too late.
The Redbirds were led by Thurmond and Darrius Edwards with eight points apiece, while Anderson and Bryan Hudson each netted six in the loss.
Zach Thompson scored eight and Mason Maier had seven to compliment Seibring and Peacock for the Ironmen.
Now Normal will basically get a home game at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State in Normal at 7 p.m. Tuesday, but its opponent will be Illinois basketball powerhouse Chicago Simeon. Peacock said that isn't an issue at this stage of the season with a state finals berth on the line.
“We're never scared of anybody,” he said. “We're going to take it right at them, give it our best shot and they will give us theirs and it should be a good game. I just hope we get out on top.”
CLASS 4A PEKIN SECTIONAL
NORMAL 48, ALTON 36
Alton 4 10 7 15 — 36
Normal 13 9 14 10 — 48
ALTON (27-5) — Darrius Edwards 8, Carlos Anderson 6, Bryan Hudson 6, Isaiah Thurmond 8, Maurice Edwards 5, Lavonte Hobbs 3. 2FG — 11 3FG — 3 FT — 4 PF — 15
NORMAL (31-1) — Tyler Vance 1, David Boyd 4, Zach Thompson 8, Alex Peacock 13, Tyler Seibring 14, Mason Maier 7, Duane Farrington 1. 2FG — 12 3FG — 5 FT — 9 PF — 12