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TAYLORVILLE — Close games have become second nature for the Rantoul Township High boys basketball team at the second annual Taylorville Holiday Tournament.
So have close losses.
Until early Friday afternoon.
Tied at 50 heading into the fourth quarter, the Eagles pulled away from Galesburg en route to a 70-63 win in its first game on Friday. The victory snaps a three-game losing skid for the Eagles, who lost both of their games on Thursday in Taylorville on a last-second shot to Charleston (62-60) and Mattoon (56-54). RTHS ends the tournament at 5 p.m. today against Rochester.
"Like I told the team, it shows a lot of heart and a lot of guts to come back after two devastating losses," RTHS head coach Brett Frerichs said. "We had a short turnaround. At least we learned from those two losses. We had a couple games where we should have had the last-second shot and didn't do it. We finished off the quarters strong and just kept our composure throughout this game. We'd always hit a big shot and make a defensive stop on the other end."
None bigger than senior Cord Church's 3-pointer with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Leading 60-56, RTHS senior forward Greg Morrow (12 points, seven rebounds) grabbed an offensive rebound and passed back to Church beyond the 3-point line.
Church — who made his season debut in the Eagles' 76-35 loss to the host Tornadoes on Wednesday night after he was out four months with a broken right forearm he suffered in the Eagles' football season opener at Charleston on Aug. 24 — drilled his second 3-pointer of the game to give RTHS a 63-56 lead with 3:21 remaining.
"I was wide open, caught the pass and shot it," said Church, who finished with eight points. "It felt good, especially coming back from an arm injury and being able to shoot the three."
Junior guard Johnny Jones scored a team-high 22 points for RTHS while dishing out three assists. Junior guard Talon Hardin added 16 points and a team-high eight rebounds while senior forward Weylin Williams added nine points, including a crucial jumper that pushed the Eagles' lead to 60-54 with 4:18 left in the fourth quarter.
Those efforts helped RTHS (5-9) overcome 23 points by Galesburg freshman guard Ethan Meeker and 17 points by Silver Streaks sophomore forward Grant Gibson.
The victory by RTHS also gave Galesburg (9-6) its first loss of the tournament, making it questionable heading into Friday's evening session who will emerge with the tournament championship.
"We kind of wanted to come over here and ruin (Galesburg's) day," Jones said. "our day was ruined (on Thursday), so we wanted someone to feel like us."