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1 -- GCMS basketball places third at state

Only one day after winning the 2018 IHSA Class 2A state football championship, a handful of football players played their first game for GCMS’s basketball team for the 2018-19 season.

Since that GCMS Thanksgiving Tournament fifth-place game, which GCMS won 74-63 over LeRoy, the Falcons won 31 consecutive games en route to the school’s first appearance in the IHSA state tournament since Jack Cowgill led the Gibson City Greyhounds to the state tourney in 1980.

For those who played for the school’s football team, the 31-game winning streak, which was snapped by Nashville in the state semifinals, followed a 14-0 run to the state football championship.

The GCMS boys basketball team needed to rally from an eight-point halftime deficit in Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A third-place game — and a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter — but ended its season on a high note with a 75-66 overtime victory over Chicago Corliss.

Connor Birky — who now plays basketball for Hesston College — made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left in regulation to give the Falcons a 58-56 lead.

Ryland Holt tallied 12 points in overtime despite picking up his fourth foul with 1:39 left in the third quarter en route to finishing with 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field along with a 10-for-10 effort from the charity stripe, along with 10 rebounds and four assists to go along with his five blocked shots. Holt is not playing for Minnesota State in Mankato.

2 -- PBL football reaches quarterfinals with new coach

After leading Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s football team to five consecutive playoff appearances, Jeff Graham resigned as the head coach last spring.

PBL hired Josh Pritchard in May 2019. Under Pritchard, the Panthers went 9-3 as they reached the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.

After losing 32-8 to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in its season opener, PBL won five straight games en route to finishing the regular season with a 7-2 record.

The Panthers won 46-6 in the first round over Chicago Carver before earning the school’s first state quarterfinal appearance in over 20 years via 27-7 victory over Farmington Central on the road in the second round.

In the quarterfinals, PBL’s season came to an end with a 38-12 loss to Princeton.

3 -- College signings

After helping the GCMS football team win its second second consecutive state championship in 2018, Bryce Barnes and Ben Freehill signed letters of intent last February to walk one for Division-I football teams at the University of Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively.

GCMS senior Madi Eberle will be a Division I athlete as she signed her letter of intent last November to play softball for Southern Illinois University.

Ryland Holt signed to play NCAA Division II basketball for Minnesota State-Mankato on a full scholarship.

Jared Trantina signed to join former teammate Mitch McNutt on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s football while Hayden Workman signed to play football for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Lane Short and Nathan Garard are playing football for Eureka College, with Garard on the baseball team as well, while Austin Spiller is on Illinois Wesleyan’s football team.

Caleb Bleich signed to play soccer and run track and field for Millikin. He now kicks for Millikin’s football team while Shannon Spangler is on the women’s golf team at that college.

Josh Bleich is on McKendree’s football team while Connor Birky is playing basketball for Hesston College.

Claire Retherford and Megan Moody, who helped lead the GCMS girls basketball team to a regional championship last February, signed letters of intent to run track and field and play basketball, respectively, for Illinois Wesleyan.

Delanie Dykes signed her letter of intent to run track and field for Northwest Missouri State prior to finishing third and ninth, in the 800- and 400-meter runs, respectively, at last May’s IHSA Class 1A state meet.

At Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Jake Rich and T.J. Jones signed to play football for McKendree while Keyn Humes signed to play for Knox College.

Alec St. Julien signed to run cross country and track and field for Millikin University while Lexi Johnson and Aubree Bruns are playing volleyball for Kankakee Community College and Spalding University, respectively. Drake Schrodt signed to play baseball for KCC.

4 -- GCMS girls basketball, softball teams win regionals

With a 44-32 win in the IHSA Class 2A regional finals over Beecher last February, the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley girls basketball team won its first regional title since 2005.

The Falcons hosted their sectional semifinal game, which they lost 53-38 to a St. Joseph-Ogden team that would finish third at the state tournament. With the loss, GCMS ended its season with a record of 24-6.

The following May, GCMS’s softball team earned its first regional title since 2014 with a 3-2 win over Bloomington Central Catholic. Madi Eberle struck out 13 batters on the mound while hitting a home run and scoring two runs at the plate.

The Falcons’ softball season ended with a record of 17-8 with a loss in the sectional semifinals with a 5-4 loss to Unity.

5 -- Dutch win again

After a one-year absence, the Buckley Dutchmasters earned a trip to the Eastern Illinois Baseball League Tournament championship series with a 4-2 win over Game Seven Legacy in the semifinals.

The Dutchmasters won the best-of-three series in two games via a couple of come-from behind victories.

In game one, Buckley won 6-5 over the Royal Giants as Cole Eshleman drove in the game-winning run via a two-out single to left field on a 2-1 pitch in the ninth inning. Drew Schrodt led off the ninth inning with a single to center field for Buckley (18-4) before Nathan Walker lined a base hit to right field, on which Schrodt scored the tying run on a fielding error.

In game two, the Dutchmasters trailed 7-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning against the Giants before rallying back with three runs to walk off with an 8-7 victory.

Once again, it was Cole Eshleman who drove in the game-winning run for Buckley as he drew a walk with the bases loaded to send Schrodt home for the walk-off run.

Sunday’s ninth-inning rally started with Josh Krumwiede drawing a one-out walk. After Quinton Hatfill reached base on a fielding error to put runners on the corners, Schrodt — who hit 2-for-4 while Eshleman went 2-for-3 — singled to center field on a 1-2 pitch to send Krumwiede home.

Schrodt advanced to second base, and Hatfill moved to third, on the throw toward the infield. After the Giants (14-9) intentionally walked Nathan Walker to load the bases, Trey Russell drew another walk to send Hatfill home to score the tying run.

The win gave the Dutchmasters (19-4) their fourth tournament title in five years. It is also Buckley’s fifth tournament title in the 2010’s. They lead the EI League in all-time tournament championships with 16.

6 -- GCMS boys track wins state medals

Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s 4x200 relay team earned a third-place medal at the IHSA Class 1A state meet last May.

Seniors Caleb Bleich, Tyler Ricks and Ryland Holt and freshman Aidan Laughery finished the 4x200 relay with a time of 1:30.

The foursome qualified for the final round of the 4x200 relay with a preliminary time of 1:30.44, the second-fastest among all state qualifiers. Spring Valley Hall had the fastest time at 1:30.18.

GCMS’s 4x400 relay team had the fastest preliminary time in the IHSA Class 1A boys’ state track and field meet on Thursday.

Bleich, Ricks, Holt and Laughery qualified for the Saturday’s final round with a preliminary time of 3:25.41. In the finals, the foursome finished seventh with a time of 3:28.57.

Bleich finished his career with three state medals. He took ninth place in the long jump in 2017.

Ricks and Holt earned their first two medals at last weekend’s state meet. Ricks competed in the 800-meter run at state last year.

The freshman Laughery also finished fourth in the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.18 seconds. He qualified for the final round of the 200-meter dash with the fastest preliminary time (22.43 seconds) among all state qualifiers.

Laughery qualified for the finals in the 100-meter dash as well with a preliminary time of 10.95 seconds.

In the finals, Laughery finished seventh with a time of 11.07 seconds. He was the lone freshman in the finals of both the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

7 -- PBL’s Ryder James places fifth in cross country state meet, seventh in two-mile run at state track

Paxton-Buckley-Loda sophomore Ryder James (above, far left) finished fifth in the IHSA Class 1A cross country state meet last November with a time of 15:05.

James finished first in the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional with a time of 15:55 after claiming a first-place finish in the Tuscola Regional with a time of 15:37.

Last May, James finished seventh in the two-mile run with a time of 9:42.86 in the Class 1A boys track and field state meet.

8 -- PBL volleyball sets school record for wins

The Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball team earned a in a regional championship match for the first time since 2012 with a two-set win over Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin last October.

The Panthers hosted Unity in the regional final and lost 25-21, 25-18. With the loss, PBL concluded a season in which they set a school record for wins with a record of 30-6.

9 -- PBL ends wrestling program

Eight years after establishing its high school wrestling program, Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School disbanded it last March after school board members voted unanimously on a reduction-in-force measure for PBL’s wrestling coach, Jacob Meyer, and the district did not vote to extend its cooperative agreement with Rantoul.

The Panthers had fielded a team for seven seasons prior to establishing what was thought to be a two-year cooperative agreement with the Eagles in the 2018-19 season, due to both programs not fielding enough grapplers for a complete roster. McClure told board members that PBL simply was not fielding enough wrestlers to make the arrangement viable.

10 -- PBL Special Olympics basketball team wins state title

The Paxton-Buckley-Loda Special Olympics basketball team won the Special Olympics Illinois Senior 15 state championship at last March’s tournament at Illinois State University’s Horton Fieldhouse.

The Panthers defeated the Jacksonville Wolverines 31-21 in the state championship game.

Chris Steiger had 10 points, including a 3-pointer, for PBL while Jack Vinyard also had 10 points.

The previous Saturday, PBL won 41-38 over the Bessemer Gummy Bears.

The Panthers led by 18 points before the Gummy Bears started a rally. They led by one point with 35 seconds remaining in the game before Vinyard made a jump shot to extend PBL’s lead to three points.

Weersing won the Ron Knisley Spirit of the Games Award for sportsmanship that Sunday. Michael Snow won the award that Saturday.