Illinois Valley Central's basketball season came to an end Feb. 27 when the team lost to Metamora, 58-34, in the second round of the home Regional.
The game started fast, with both teams putting up early points and each side gave their raucous fan sections something to cheer about.
Reilly Owens, who led the team with 11 points, helped distribute the ball to open teammates to keep the team within striking distance of the Redbirds early.
After the opening quarter, Metamora held a 17-10 lead.
The second frame found the Ghosts playing the aggressor.
IVC upped the defensive pressure and forced bad shots and turnovers due to the intense Ghost hustle.
Metamora's offense was stifled for eight minutes and the Ghosts took the advantage with AJ Johnson knocking down big shots.
At halftime, Metamora's lead was 23-20.
"Metamora is really good and we did a really nice job in the second quarter, after getting down in the first quarter," coach Joe Mintus said.
IVC hung with Metamora in the third quarter but the Redbirds were able to create a little separation as they began to overpower the Ghost defense.
With one quarter left, Metamora led 36-27.
The final frame was all Metamora as the Redbirds banked in shot after shot to put up 22 points and cruise to the win.
"They are strong and we only had three offensive rebounds for the entire game," Mintus said. "We did a nice job, though. That was one of the games were you just tip your cap to them. It was not anything we did, they just beat us."
The Ghosts started the Regional with a 40-36 win over the rival Dunlap Eagles Feb. 25.
"That was a good win," Mintus said. "We fought and clawed. They had us down and we just continually chipped away at their lead. We got some defensive stops and really contained them. We did a nice job defensively."
IVC's offense and defense clicked in the first few minutes but an early timeout from Dunlap helped the Eagles regain their footing.
Throughout the rest of the quarter, the Eagles knocked down shot after shot over Ghost defenders.
After the opening frame, Dunlap led 19-10.
In the second quarter, the Ghosts turned the tables on Dunlap and held the Eagles to two points in the eight minutes before halftime.
The press and half-court pressure of IVC kept Dunlap from settling into a rhythm and forced bad shots and turnovers.
IVC took advantage of Dunlap's offensive woes and closed the gap on the Eagle lead.
Page 2 of 2 - Johnson, who led the team with 15 points, took passes from teammates and sank open shots from all over the court.
IVC pulled in front of Dunlap, 22-21, at halftime.
The third quarter proved to be a defensive battle as both teams combined for 12 points.
With one quarter left, Dunlap clutched a slim 28-27 lead.
In the final frame, the teams battled back and forth, with neither able to establish a comfortable lead.
Caleb Magee, playing in his first game since a knee injury in late December, put the Ghosts up 38-36 when he received a pass from Johnson and sank a three-pointer with 52 seconds left in the game.
"He hit two big threes and two big free throws for us," Mintus said. "It was nice to have him back. I was happy for him. You don't want a senior to end their career on an injury."
The ensuing possession saw Magee again come up clutch when he deflected the ball and forced Dunlap into an over-and-back call.
Magee then knocked down two free-throws to ensure the Ghost victory.
"I was really proud of our team," Mintus said. "They never went into a game and didn't play hard. I thought they played hard every night. I thought they made it exciting for people every game. I think our fans appreciated the fact that we might not have been blessed with the most talent but really played hard at all times.
"We won some games simply because we played harder than other teams."
The team finishes the season with a record of 15-12.
"We have a lot of work to do," Mintus said. "One of the biggest goals for this year was making sure we were playing hard at all times and trying to build a team to play at that 3A level. We need to go out and be physical and play hard at all times.
"We had six juniors and a sophomore on our team and 12 sophomores on the sophomore team. That's a good thing. We have competition to make the team next year. Guys can't just pick up a basketball in November and think they will be able to make the team. It won't be that easy."