MOWEAQUA — Jameson Smith sprinted to half court, leaped into the air and gave a fist pump, then ran over to his dad, Central A&M boys basketball coach Rob Smith, for a long hug.
Ten minutes later, Jameson stood atop a ladder under the hoop with his arms stretched as high as he could, scissors in hand, and trimmed a piece of the net after the Raiders beat Nokomis 69-56 in the Class 1A Moweaqua (Central A&M) Sectional championship.
It's the first sectional title since 2007, and with the win the Raiders will travel to the Carbondale (SIU) Super-sectional at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Goreville.
“It’s amazing," said Jameson Smith, with the net draped around his neck. "I’ve been dreaming about this day since I was a little guy. That’s been the goal. Quite frankly, not many people believed we could get here but us and some people in the community. Now that we’ve finally done it, it’s really amazing, especially doing it my last year with my dad.
"I love this game. I don’t have very many games left. I’m not going to the next level. I love the game, and I want to coach eventually. A jam-packed, small-town crowd, you can feel the community."
Smith had nine points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals for the Raiders.
It's the 10th straight win for Central A&M (22-8).
“We’re not getting stopped anytime soon," A&M sophomore Connor Heaton said. "We’ve got guys who can score all over the floor. It’s not just one guy, it’s not just two guys, it’s all five. And it’s not just five, it’s our whole team."
With Central A&M leading by five with 6:23 left, Smith received a pass from Heaton in the corner in front of his student section and riffled in a 3-pointer for an eight-point lead.
Nokomis (24-8) scored on the other end, but never climbed closer than six points the rest of the game.
The rest of the fourth-quarter heroics were provided by sophomore Griffin Andricks.
He finished with a game-high 25 points and added 10 rebounds, a steal and six blocks.
Andricks buried a 3-pointer on the possession before Smith's triple to turn a two-point lead to five points. On the possession after Smith's 3-pointer, Andricks connected on his second 3 of the quarter. In all, he drilled four 3s in the fourth.
“It started with my dad, he was a 3-point ace in high school and I got it from him, I guess," Andricks said.
“I love shooting 3s. I love the feeling when it’s going through the air and I swish it and the team behind my back."
The Raiders struggled to contain the Nokomis brother combination of Carter (10 points) and Brayden Sabol (14 points). The duo hauled in a combined 14 rebounds and propelled the Redskins to a 17-8 lead after the first quarter.
A&M was searching for an answer to dig out of the hole. Heaton (13 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals) and Jacob Paradee (7 points) were on the bench with foul trouble.
In stepped 5-foot-8 senior guard Tate Paradee. He scored 14 points off the bench, with nine coming in the second quarter, to close the gap and enter halftime tied 23-all.
Paradee hit a triple to cut the deficit to four points, 17-13, with 6:57 left in the first half. Then, with 2:40 left in the first half, Paradee fired from the right side of the court, buried a 3-pointer, absorbed a foul and hit his free throw to pull A&M within four again, 21-17.
A minute later, Paradee hit two free throws to cut the lead to two, 21-19.
"I don’t know what happened," Tate Paradee said. "I came out and hit a shot and they kept falling. The defense kept going, the team kept passing me the ball and it kept going in.
“Something has been working for me this year and I’ve been happy with it."
Said Jameson Smith of the four-point play: “It definitely shifted the momentum. Tate hits big shots all the time. He seems to find the moment and knock that 3 down."
A&M went 19 of 24 from the free-throw line, and 12 of 14 in the fourth quarter.
Nokomis shot 2 of 12 from beyond the arc for the game.
“It’s the free throws," Nokomis coach Steve Kimbro said. "It comes down to the free-throw line. We talk about how they’ve got to beat you in one way, and they hit the 3-pointers and that helped, but it was the free throws that put it over the top."
Nokomis standout sophomore Carter Sabol picked up his fourth foul after Andricks drew a charge in the second quarter that sent him to the bench until the fourth quarter.
“It changed the whole game for us," Kimbro said. "They still didn’t run away from us at that point. It was six points with four or five minutes to go. We had our opportunities and they hit their 3s and they hit their free throws and that’s what you do to win ball games."
Standing room only
At roughly 5:45, more than an hour before tip-off, Jameson Smith got to the school and had to search for a parking spot.
Inside, the bleachers were packed on both sides and people lined along the wall to watch.
School officials said the gym was at capacity.
“This is a special community," Rob Smith said. "There’s nobody like it. I was at Teutopolis, and that's a pretty cool place in terms of fans, but our fans are second to none. There’s no question. It was an unbelievable environment."
When it matters most
Heaton battled foul trouble in a scoreless first half, and finally found rhythm in the second half with three field goals.
But when it mattered most, Heaton stepped up.
He had a chance to seal the game at the line and did, knocking in 7 of 8 free throws in the final 49 seconds.
“It’s nuts, it’s so loud, I tried to concentrate as much as I could and put the game away," Heaton said. "My teammates had my back, it was awesome. Words can’t describe it."
One more run
Jameson and Rob Smith have been to the state finals in Peoria every year since Jameson was born.
Sometimes it was as a fan, sometimes it was when Rob was an assistant coach.
Now, they're one win away from realizing their dream of sitting on the bench.
"He sits with me every year and it’s always been our goal to one time to be able to sit on the bench, so maybe we’ll be able to do that," Rob Smith said.