Saturday, February 16, 2019

Metamora "played their guts out" in 47-41 win over Pekin

Metamora's 6'9" senior Thomas Hall blocks the shot of Pekin's 6'7" senior Patrick Torrey. PHOTO / JASON WHITE

Metamora, Ill. - In a sense, Friday night's game wasn't anything out of the ordinary for the Metamora Redbirds (19-8) (9-2). They were playing in a critical Mid-Illini game that could have major implications in terms of the final standings. Not their first rodeo. Tonight, they'd square off with the Pekin Dragons (12-12) (8-4). A win for the Dragons gives them a half-game lead over the Redbirds for first place, but a Redbird win could mean sole possession of first place, that being if the Morton Potters also won their Friday game.

Head Coach Danny Grieves says that it helps that critical games like Friday's are happening more often than not.

"We've played back-to-back nights in the Mid-Illini for the conference championship. We don't win at Morton, there's no chance. We don't win here, we have to share. And we still have three games left. Our kids have put a premium on playing good defense and just trying to do the best they can to be successful at the end."

Neither team had a true advantage in the early-going, but if there was one team, even one category where someone stood out, it was the rebounding efforts of the host Redbirds. Four different players, Thomas Hall, Gabe Mason, Collin Dietz, and Joe Nelan, each brought in a pair of boards for a total of eight.

Mason, a player who can stay hot when the shots start falling for him, hit two treys in the first quarter to be the game's leading scorer after the first eight minutes. It'd be the Redbirds holding a slim 12-7 lead after a quarter.

The Redbirds would continue to do well in the rebounding department. A factor coming into tonight's game would be how well Metamora could defend the three-point shooting of the visiting Dragons. After one in the opening quarter from Justin Taphorn, Tyler Durr hit one as well, but that was all Pekin could get from behind the arc.

Meanwhile, Metamora's points were coming at a slightly better clip than Pekin's, but they weren't that spread out. When the Redbirds went into halftime with a 23-17 lead, only three players had scored.

When it came time for the third quarter, it was quite evident that the Dragons were appreciating the post-playing efforts of their 6'7" senior, Patrick Torrey. It seemed at times that the Redbirds didn't have an answer, with Torrey scoring six of his game-high 17 points in the quarter. Coach Grieves credited the efforts of Thomas Hall against Torrey early, but did add that there were other aspects of the Dragons' game that were the Redbirds' focus.

"He's (Torrey) a good player. Thomas, I thought, set the tone early, blocked his first shot. They have a tremendous three-point shooting team. We were going to make them beat us with twos. As he was making the twos, they inched along."

Scoring did taper off somewhat for Metamora in the third quarter, with three total shots falling plus two free throws. Despite it seeming like the Dragons had edge, it would only be a four-point lead for the Redbirds headed to the fourth, 32-28.

There is a saying that says it's not how you start, but how you finish. Both teams were prime examples of such a quote, combining for 28 points in the final frame, the highest-scoring quarter of the game.

Three-point shooting started to break through some more for the Dragons, with junior Max Jones dropping a pair of threes for his scoring on the night.

Free throws came up big for Metamora, particularly for Gabe Mason. The Redbird junior went a perfect 4-4, just under half of the Redbirds total of 11-16 numbers from the charity stripe.

Those converted opportunities may just have been the difference, as Metamora would hold on for a 47-41 win over the Dragons. With Morton beating East Peoria on Friday night as well, the Redbirds hold a half game lead over the Potters.

So how do you eventually pull away with a win in a game as rough as Friday's? Grieves says that equaling the physicality was certainly a big help, but also controlling themselves.

"Our kids did a really good job down the stretch of being physical and also being under control."

It was quite easy to tell at times that this game wasn't exactly soft. Coach Grieves says that it wasn't a surprise for his team.

"Anytime you play Pekin at home or away, that's what they do. They got a really good coach that has an excellent game plan, and they try to put their will upon you."

Collin Dietz finished just shy of a double-double, bringing in  12 points and seven rebounds. Joe Nelan was also two points and two rebounds shy of a double-double as well.

Grieves says Dietz is about as key as a key contributor to a team can come.

"He's a guy that we desparately need in the game. You can see the lull when he came out, but he plays so hard. What he brings to our team both defensively and offensively, and rebounding is just tremendous."

Metamora will head to Washington for a highly emotional battle between the two rivals. Saturday night, the Redbirds and Panthers student sections will join together and wear gray in support of Washington head coach Kevin Brown, who is currently in a medical leave of absence, after having surgery for a brain tumor before the start of the 18-19 season. Brown did return for a good portion of the season to this point, but has taken the medical leave of absence recently. The gray-wearing will also honor Mrs. Fuller, a member of the faculty at Washington High School.

Coach Grieves says that he and Brown have been having some discussions as of late.

"Coach Brown, I've been in contact with him a little bit this week. He's had some real rough times. Obviously, that whole town and team and school are fighting for Coach Brown, and they should be."

Grieves says it will also be a key game for some of his players, referencing Washington transfers Payton Havens and Collin Dietz.

"It's going to be an emotionally charged game. We got two kids that came from there - that'd be their senior night if they were still there."

It can be easy for some to let the rivalry get to their head and let it control how they play, and Grieves says that could certainly be a factor.

"The way I look at it is, we just got to go in there and it's game 27. It can't be such a big thing. It can't be this huge rivalry."

The Metamora - Washington game is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm Saturday night, with the sophomore game beginning at 5:30 pm from Torry Gym.

Metamora's Payton Havens defends Pekin's Adam Cash during Friday night's game in Metamora.
Head Coach Danny Grieves directs the Metamora huddle during Friday night's game against Pekin.

The Metamora faithful and bench celebrate in the late-going of Friday's win over Pekin.

Metamora Scorers:
Gabe Mason (16), Collin Dietz (12), Joe Nelan (8), Payton Havens (7), Thomas Hall (4)

Metamora Team Stats: 11 2's, 4 3's, 13-19 FTs, 10 fouls, 30 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals, 11 turnovers, 47 points

Metamora Individual Leaders:
2's | Collin Dietz (5)
3's | Gabe Mason (4)
FTs | Gabe Mason (4-4)
Reb | Thomas Hall & Joe Nelan (8)
Ast | Payton Havens & Collin Dietz (2)
Stl | Payton Havens & Collin Dietz (2)

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