By PAUL HINES
Only an elite group of sports teams finish their season celebrating a victory.
Woodlawn’s grade school boys basketball spent Saturday celebrating its sweetest win of the season. The 18-10 Warriors capped their year with four straight tournament wins that ended with the Southern Illinois Junior High Athletic Association Class S Championship. Woodlawn topped Rome 39-28 in the title game in a rematch from earlier this season. The championship was Woodlawn’s second straight.
“They’re about the same just different years, but obviously back to back is something very special,” Woodlawn coach Matt Patterson said.
A season ago the Warriors finished 20-6 and were crowned champions.
“This group they wanted to be something special as well,” Woodlawn assistant coach Mike Richardson said.
Zach Ashby led Woodlawn in scoring against Rome with 12 points, and Jordan Hoppa added 10. The Warriors took a slim 6-5 lead into the second quarter and held a 15-10 halftime advantage.
“We sort of had things going our way at that point,” Richardson said.
Rome exited halftime and opened the third quarter with seven straight points. Woodlawn regrouped and took the lead going into the final quarter before using its size in the fourth. Rome was forced to foul midway through the fourth, hoping for misses from the free throw line.
“We had kids step up to the free throw line and knock down shots,” Richardson said. “That’s what it amounted to. We didn’t have much of an offensive flow. (Rome coach) John (Burkett) used his timeouts well and fouled at the right time.”
Woodlawn used a balanced scoring attack throughout the season that saw all five starters lead the team in scoring at different points.
“We tried to really be balanced in our offensive attack,” Patterson said.
Ashby led the team in scoring this season. Patterson said he was undersized in the post area but brought athleticism to the team. Another post player Jordan Hoppa was the team’s second leading scorer.
“He probably played his best four games the week of the state tournament,” Patterson said. “He really got hot, had some confidence.”
Beau Bennett was relied on for his ball handling skills during the tournament, Patterson said. The team’s point guard Jaxon Helm delivered a clutch basket with about 20 seconds left in the semifinal game against Pinckneyville. The bucket helped Woodlawn pull out a win.
Zach Williams, a seventh grader, rounded out the Warriors starting lineup.
“He hit some big shots for us that entire tournament,” Patterson said.
Richardson said midway through the season the team tightened up on defense and became more unselfish on the offensive side.
“Our defense all year long we thought was really good,” Richardson said. “Nobody really gave us a whole lot of credit on our defense, but we thought it was good and we just tweaked it a little bit. Then when the shots started to fall the second half of the year, we were as hot as any team going into the regional and the state tournament.”
Rend Lake College hosted the tournament games, and Richardson said the final brought a large, loud crowd.
“The crowd was just crazy. I think that’s probably the largest crowd that I’ve ever seen down there for a state tournament game, and I’ve been involved with several of them over the years,” Richardson said. “And this crowd was pretty vocal.”
The team gathered at the grade school on Saturday before attending the Woodlawn-Flora boys game and being honored at halftime.
“Woodlawn’s a good basketball town. It was good for those kids to be recognized in front of the high school crowd,” Patterson said.