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Seeking an alternate ending

Cougars aim to finish story the way they finished supersectional

Eastland coach Tony Dunlap's in-laws, Eli and Betty McNutt, congratulate him as his 
wife, Colleen (over his shoulder) beams.
Eastland coach Tony Dunlap's in-laws, Eli and Betty McNutt, congratulate him as his wife, Colleen (over his shoulder) beams.

The last time Tony Dunlap guided an Eastland team to the state tournament, it didn’t quite go as he had planned.

The Cougars had the state’s top-ranked team, Salt Fork, on the ropes in the semifinal before a shoulder injury to their best player, Tony Dunlap Jr., hurt the team’s chances at victory. Eastland lost that game, as well as the third-place game, to come home with a fourth-place trophy.

Newark, the team Eastland beat to get to state in 2010, made it back the following year and won it all. It left coach Dunlap wanting what Newark coach Rick Tollefson possesses.

“They’ve got rings, they’ve got this, they’ve got that,” Dunlap said, “and all we’ve got is one little guy in the [trophy] case. We’ve got to try to get something different this time.”

Sneak peek: Tuesday’s inclement weather and subsequent postponement of the Eastland vs. Newark game provided Dunlap with an opportunity to get a sneak peek at his team’s next opponent, Madison.

The bad weather wasn’t so bad down south, and the Madison vs. (Payson) Seymour game at the Jacksonville Supersectional was played as scheduled. Dunlap watched Madison’s 66-60 victory via the Internet.

He’s accrued several advance scouting reports from coaching contacts, and as one might expect, was impressed with Madison.

“We’ve just got to go and give it our best,” he said.

Perfect in fourth: While Newark’s offense made its push in the fourth quarter, Eastland did not fold under the pressure. 

The Cougars shot 4-for-4 from the field in the quarter. They also made 6-of-8 free throws. 

“We must have been making up for the Aquin game, when we didn’t make any field goals in the fourth quarter,” Dunlap said.

According to Dunlap and his players, the ability to stay cool under pressure comes from playing tough teams like Goreville and Winnebago in the nonconference slate. 

“Playing teams like Goreville and Winnebago gave us a lot of confidence even when we lost,” Eastland senior Austin Hansen said. “We were right with Winnebago for a half, and look at them, they are in the 2A supersectional game. 

“Coach told us that this is the toughest schedule that we’ve ever had, so to be 30-3 is pretty good.” 

Second time around: The Eastland-Newark game was a rematch of the 2010 supersectional game, which Eastland won 70-57.

The star of that night was Tony Dunlap Jr., who was 11-for-18 from the field for 36 points. 

Freshmen on both squads saw action that night, and returned to play in Wednesday’s game. 

The key figure was Brett Anderson. The Newark star had 15 points in the latest loss to Eastland. Anderson had 11 points and five rebounds in the first encounter. 

Two Cougars appeared in both games, as Austin Hansen and Ty Hartman saw limited action in the first contest. As seniors, they were bigger factors. Hansen had seven points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal. Hartman had nine points, four rebounds and two steals. 

Eastland is now 2-1 in supersectional games.

Hansen and Hartman have contributed to Eastland varsity teams that have a combined 110-16 record.

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