Nashville celebrates its 2A state title. (Photo: Chaqwonn Jones)
By Jakub Rudnik
CHAMPAIGN — With 2:40 remaining in the boys 2A state title game, Monticello layup put the Sages up six. In a 31-25 game, Nashville’s deficit seemed enormous.
Twelve seconds later, Nolan Heggemeier’s three cut the lead in half. With a minute to go, Kolten Gajewski’s basket made it 31-30 Monticello.
On the other end, Monticello’s Tanner Buehnerkemper missed a layup, rebounded by Saxton Hoepker. Hoepker slashed to the rim on the other end, finishing his own layup to put Nashville up 32-31.
After a timeout, Monticello wound down the clock. Ben Cresap was forced into a mid-range shot.
Hoepker was there to deny him, sealing the comeback win for Nashville.
Nashville is the 2022 Illinois boys 2A state champion.— Jakub Rudnik (@jakubrudnik) March 12, 2022
Monticello 31 pic.twitter.com/dA787dIPag
“I feel like we stole one there,” Nashville coach Patrick Weathers said. “I can’t say enough about how resilient this bunch of guys are sitting up here with me.”
Hoepker averaged 15 points per game this season, but he was scoreless until 4:31 remaining in the game. He finished with four points, five rebounds and two blocks — and arguably the two biggest plays of the game.
“For that [block] to seal the game, that’s huge,” Hoepker said. “Kilten [Gajewski] had a great game and carried us most of the way, but that block at the end felt great.”
Gajewski led all players with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He averaged less than six points and six rebounds for the season.
“I think it just goes to effort — I like playing hard,” Gajewski said. “I don’t know really what I’ve changed, but it’s been working lately. Just to go out there and play on this stage has loosened me up a little bit I guess.”
Nashville finished as the 2A runner-up in 2019. Its football team was the football 2A runner-up in 2020. Those experiences helped 30-4 Nashville in its biggest game of the season.
“It’s a huge factor,” senior guard Isaac Turner said. “If it’s your first time playing in a state tournament, you’re going to have nerves. Since I’ve been a part of four of them, it helps me stay calm and play it like another game — not try and force, not try and do too much.”
Monticello was led by seniors Dylan Ginalick (11 points), Cresap (eight points) and Buehnerkemper (three points and 10 rebounds).
Monticello finished 33-4 and advanced further than any team in program history.
“It says here we shot 11-for-31,” Buehnerkemper said. “But I really wanted that last one to go in. I knew if I would have made that we would have won.
“But one shot doesn’t define me,” he added. “One shot doesn’t define us. One shot doesn’t define the season. We’ve got to keep our heads up high, we did a great job.”