PEORIA – Like a Hollywood script, the fourth quarter of Friday’s Class 1A semifinal game at Carver Arena played out with all the thrills and all the twists of a summer blockbuster.
There was the hero. Eastland’s Dalton Shaner providing classic lines like a clutch 3-pointer and an improbable theft. He had an answer for every every obstacle the Madison Trojans threw before him and his Cougar teammates.
As orange-and-blue-clad fans sat on the edge of their seats, the final scene played out before their eyes.
A one-point deficit. Shaner bringing the ball up the court with 8.3 seconds left. Here’s the hero. Here’s the perfect ending. Everyone goes home happy.
It sounds perfect. Too good to be true, even.
The fates thought so, too.
Shaner drove down the right side of the lane, two defenders pinched in, and then the unthinkable: the ball bounced away right into the hands of Madison’s Carvel Dixon.
Movie over. Roll credits. Madison 51-50.
“I wanted to take one more dribble and then pull up for the jumper,” Shaner said. “Austin [Hansen] came over for a screen. We were a little crossed up. Both of their guys pinched in, and one of them got a hand on the ball.”
Instead of Shaner sealing his leading-role credit, it was Madison’s Deontay Starnes that stole the show.
First, he powered up a shot with 41.6 seconds left as Skylar Paulson fouled him. The basket tied the score at 48. He made the free throw for the one-point advantage.
On the next possession, Eastland’s Ty Hartman powered through three defenders to give the Cougars the lead.
“If not for Ty and Skylar today, we wouldn’t have had a chance,” Shaner said. “We weren’t hitting anything from the outside early, and they took over on the inside.”
The momentum wave turned again, as the ball went back down to Starnes, who was again fouled with 8.3 seconds left. Starnes, who was a 46 percent shooter coming into the game, made both. He missed his first five free throws Friday before hitting his last three, all in the final minute.
“My team was counting on me hitting free throws,” Starnes said. “Coach told me to slow down at the line, and that was what I was focusing on. I was just trying to go slow.”
“We were going down to him a lot in the first quarter,” Madison’s Jaime Cotto said. “Then, we just stopped giving him the ball for some reason. I don’t know why. Then at the end, we decided to give him another try, and good things happened.”
Starnes had the first four points of the game, including a basket on the opening possession, where Madison (21-11) had three offensive rebounds, to the chagrin to Eastland coach Tony Dunlap.
“Blocking out was a point of emphasis going into the game,” Dunlap said. “I blame myself for not preparing them more and having them ready for that level of play.”
“We weren’t getting into position early in the game,” Paulson said. “We weren’t expecting them to be that quick and for them to go after the rebounds that hard.”
Madison outrebounded Eastland 9-1 in the first quarter, but a late surge concluded with a Hartman basket that put them up 12-11.
The second quarter became the Paulson show. He found a soft spot in the Trojans’ 2-3 zone to rack up six points and three rebounds in the frame.
“I started using a back cut along the baseline,” Paulson said. “It put me in good position for the pass or a rebound.”
Eastland (30-4) led by as many as five points in the quarter, but it was Madison that found a spurt toward the end of the half to tie the score at 24.
After a sloppy third quarter by both teams, the fourth quarter was a thrill a minute, as Shaner emerged from a rather ho-hum performance before that.
He had 10 points going into the quarter. He finished with 19.
His basket with 5 minutes left gave Eastland a brief lead at 40-39. A couple of minutes later, Hartman skipped a pass over to Shaner for a 3-pointer that put Eastland up 43-41. On the ensuing Madison possession, Shaner stole an errant pass and was fouled. He sank both free throws, and the lead ballooned to 45-41.
Hartman had 18 points, three rebounds and two assists. Paulson had nine points and seven rebounds.
Tyvon Powers saved the day for Madison at that point, but Shaner felt sure that the game was Eastland’s to win.
Marquis Borney had 18 points and six rebounds. Starnes had 15 points and nine rebounds. Powers finished with 14 points and three steals.
“Even after they hit that 3-pointer, it felt like we were in control,” Shaner said. “Everything was starting to click. I really thought we had it. They just hit the big shots and the made the big plays.”
Numbers game: Madison won rebounding battle 30-22
Trojans' horse: Starnes had 15 points and nine rebounds
Cougar with bite: Dalton Shaner had game-high 19 points and five steals
One to go: Eastland will play Nokomis in third-place game at 12:15 p.m. today. Nokomis lost 52-38 to Illini Central in the other semifinal.