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DECATUR — The Team Soy St. Teresa Christmas Tournament began Dec. 21 and eight days later St. Teresa and LSA needed four extra minutes of overtime to finally decide a tournament champion. 

With no time on the clock, St. Teresa's Isaiah Bond hit a free throw all alone at the line to give the Bulldogs the 50-49 win.

LSA gave another strong-hearted performance after a last minute victory against Mount Pulaski on Thursday put the Lions in the championship game.

The Lions fell behind by as many as 13 points in the first half but caught a little bit of momentum in the final seconds of the second quarter as Mike Fiala hit a 3-pointer as time expired, cutting St. Teresa's lead to 26-19. 

The third saw LSA tightening things further as junior Grant Karsten kept the team afloat scoring nine points in the quarter.

LSA even took the lead with five minutes left in the game, 40-38, and from there it was a back-and-forth battle of ball possession. 

With under two minutes left and St. Teresa leading 43-42, the Lions decided to keep the ball for the final play and as Ezra Schaal shot, the Bulldogs were whistled for the foul. Schaal hit 1 of 2 free throws and the game was headed to overtime. 

The bonus period again saw the game come down to the final seconds.

Trailing 49-47, LSA had the ball with 12 seconds left and again it was Schaal who drew the foul while shooting, and this time hit both shots. 

It gave St. Teresa a final shot with 4.8 seconds to play, which was plenty of time for Isaiah Bond to shine. 

"At the end I looked over and (Coach Tom Noonan) said go coast-to-coast and so that's what I did," Bond said. 

Bond took it straight to the rim, missed the shot, but drew the foul as time expired. 

It was Bond's game to win and that's what he did, sinking the free throw and giving St. Teresa the title.

The final play went just as Noonan planned. 

"We had a rebounder set up, we had a shooter set up, and if (Isaiah) could get to the rim, get to the rim," he said. "We’ve run that play before, he’s a guy that’s got the length, he’s got the scoring ability and he did a really good job getting to the rim."

Although the layup didn't go in, there aren't too many players Noonan would prefer to see taking the game-winning free throw.

"Isaiah and Manny (Green), those are our guys that knocked them down last night and (Isaiah's) a guy who has played here for four years stepping up to the line," Noonan said. "He spends a lot of time in the gym working on that shot and I thought it was fitting he closed his senior year Christmas tournament like that." 

Although he hadn't been in a moment quite like that before, Bond had played it over in his mind many times before. 

"Every free throw I imagine that sort of situation and that’s what we practice. Everyone always says practice and put yourself in those sort of situations. So in my eyes I’ve practiced for it a million times," he said. 

LSA coach Tom Saunches said his team will take away quite a bit from its near victory. 

"I think we will learn a lot from this game. That’s the best team we’ve played and I don’t know who we have left that would top them. I mean they are a 2A team and we’re 1A," he said. 

The Lions are also a team that feel any comeback can happen.  

"When I watch them play it feels like anything is possible. As long as you don’t give up, you still have a chance. (St. Teresa) had us almost underground in the first half but we made that little run at the end of the second," Saunches said. "They are a great ball club and there are just so many weapons you have to defend and then they have that aircraft carrier in the middle (Bulldogs' center Beau Branyan). Again we had to guard him with a 6-foot guy but he was really a force underneath for them."

Heyworth 63, Mount Pulaski 57

In the third-place game, Heyworth defeated Mount Pulaski behind a 25-point scoring performance by Tate Eller. 

Mount Pulaski took a 2-point lead into halftime but the Hornets proved to be too athletic for the Hilltoppers to keep up as they pulled away in the fourth quarter. 

Mount Pulaski coach Ryan Deibert pointed to that and his team's struggles at the line in leading to the loss. 

"We’ve been a good free throw shooting team all year and then we were pretty lackluster when the games really matter," he said. "And our inability to play against teams that are a little bit more athletic and a little bit quicker than us, to really square off the ball."

A bright spot for the Hilltoppers was the play of Peyton Taylor, who scored his 1,000th career point off a tip-in layup in the first quarter.

The Mount Pulaski fans in attendance were doing the math in their heads and gave Taylor a standing ovation after the bucket. 

Taylor was happy to reach this milestone. 

"It’s great, I’ve put in a lot of work to get here but of course it would have been better if we had won, but I’m excited that I got there," he said. "(Getting the ovation) was pretty exciting and something special that doesn’t happen very often and I’m so happy they could come out here and support me for that."

Deibert said Taylor is just as good a person off the court as on. 

"Peyton has just been a huge force over the past four years. You hear about the 1,000 points and that’s great, an amazing feat, but he is a great kid off the floor," he said. "He’s very involved in the community and church. He’s a great role model for my kids and other kids in the community. He’s also approaching 800 rebounds and so he has the ability to put the ball in the hole and also clean up the garbage for us, which gets overlooked sometimes."

mflaten@herald-review.com | (217) 421-6968

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Sports Writer

Sports writer for the Herald & Review.

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