In the days before the Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association state tournament, Christopher Middle School head coach Russ Hobbs had his team working on the fundamentals.
When the game came down to the wire, that work paid off.
In a packed gym with crowds that rocked the rafters, the Bearcats faced a tough 20-6 Nashville team for bragging rights and the first-place trophy. The Bearcats sealed the 35-30 win to bring home the championship trophy.
The Hornets controlled the opening tip as well as the score for most of the first half. With just over two minutes to play before the break, Colin Sveda launched a three-point goal from well behind the arc, closing the gap to just three points. About a minute later, Sveda capitalized on a Nashville turnover, driving the length of the court to lay in another bucket, closing the gap to a single point.
Nashville's Kolten Gajewski broke loose for a layup of his own with 38 seconds on the clock, and the Bearcats trailed by three at the half, but that's when Hobbs made some adjustments.
The third quarter was a defensive battle, with the teams scoring five points each.
Christopher's Isaac Queen made the front end of a pair of free throws, but Peyton Mazur got the rebound and the stick back to tie up game.
After that, it was all Bearcat ball, as Christopher outscored Nashville 13-5 in the final period.
With 1:30 left in the game, Christopher had a one-point lead and the ball, forcing the Hornets to foul.
Sveda stepped to the line twice for a pairs of charity tosses and calmly sunk them all, sealing a victory for the Bearcats.
"We've been spending a lot of extra time on free throws lately," said Hobbs. "It looks like that paid off."
Sveda said he didn't realize the importance of the shots when he stepped to the line. "I just knew I needed to make them," he said.
Hobbs said he never dreamed about being back in the state tournament.
"We did this a long time ago," he said. "When that happened you think you might not ever get back here, but it's really a joy to be back again. It's feels really good."
The Bearcats finished the season 17-7.