Nashville punches ticket for state title game in double-overtime thriller

Stellar defense has won several Hornet games this season, but the stakes were never higher as Nashville shocks the DePaul College Prep Rams in the Class 2A state semi-final game in double overtime, 31-24, at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

Both Nashville and DePaul matched defensive energies from the start, but the Hornets kept in the fight. After a first quarter that saw no Hornet field goal, Nashville clawed their way back from an 8-1 deficit to trailing 10-6 at the half.

The Rams kept the lead throughout the third quarter but the Hornets started to turn up the heat. Saxton Hoepker scored eight straight points to tie the game with 7:09 left in the fourth.

After tying the ball game for a second time at 21 with 2:30 left, the Hornets would hold onto possession in hopes of getting the last shot in regulation but they would turn the ball over and DePaul failed to capitalize to send it into extra minutes.

Each team only scored a free throw in the first overtime to force the second, and the Hornets’ first lead came in the double. Play after play, they inched to extend the lead in the final minutes of extra time with clutch free throws from Hoepker and Isaac Turner and some important defensive plays from Kolten Gajewski and Nolan Heggemeier. The last points came from a dunk from Kolten Gajewski — who later admitted that was his first career slam — and the floor erupted as Nashville moved on to the title game

Hoepker had 13 points, shooting 5-11 from the field and 3 for 4 from the free-throw line. He also had 10 rebounds.

Gajewski added 7 points while Turner put up 5, Heggemeier had 3 and Carter Schoenherr had 2.

Nashville advances to the 2A state title game Saturday against Monticello (31-3). The Sages defeated Rockridge 54-38.

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