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O’Brien: Leo falls to LeRoy in Class 1A title game

PEORIA—Everything went exactly according to plan on Leo’s final possession of the Class 1A state title game at Carver Arena on Saturday. The ball ended up in senior Darius Branch’s hands. He’s Leo’s leader and one of the city’s top floor generals and he had a clean look at a game-tying three-pointer.

The shot just didn’t go in, which was the case most of the game for the Lions. LeRoy beat Leo 38-35 to win the first basketball state title in school history.

“I didn’t realize high school sports hurt this much,” first-year Leo coach Shawn Frison said.

The Lions (24-9) shot 12-for-47. Branch finished with eight points, he was 0-for-7 from three-point range.

“I was trying to tie the game up to go to overtime,” Branch said. “Some of the shots we usually make weren’t going in. We just got caught on an off day.”

The Panthers’ zone defense caused the Lions all sorts of problems. It clogged the post and LeRoy was athletic enough to contest three-pointers.

“Every team we’ve faced says after the game they had a rough shooting night,” LeRoy coach Mark Edmundson said. “We make you shoot quicker, we make you shoot higher.”

Darias Oliver, a 6-4 senior, opened plenty of eyes with his play this weekend. He scored 14 points and grabbed 15 boards. Mykel Hampton added eight points for Leo.

LeRoy’s Matt Chastain was the breakout star of the state tournament. The 6-6 senior was a total unknown three weeks ago. He’s been collecting Division I scholarship offers for the past week.

“[College coaches] had messed up radar,” Edmundson said. “They were simply missing the boat.”

Chastain scored the first 12 points of the game for the Panthers (28-5) and finished with 21 points four rebounds and three assists. He found Noah Perry for the game-winning three-pointer with 41 seconds left to play.

“I haven’t hit a big shot all season,” Chastain said. “There was no hesitation in my mind, I was giving the ball to [Perry].”

Frison was emotional in the post-game press conference.

“[Branch and Oliver] were the heart of our team,” Frison said. “They are what Leo men are bred to be. I’m so proud of them. I’m not an easy coach to play for. I think I’m goining to have separation anxiety. It’s like sending your own kid off to college.”

Chastain, who has offers from Utah, Illinois State and several other colleges, is the leading scorer in school history and now a state champion.

“It’s a perfect way to end it,” Chastain said.

Hales, which lost to Rockridge on a buzzer-beater in the Class 2A semifinals on Friday, lost to Breese Central 71-58 on Saturday in the third place game.

Junior guard Milton Wordlow led the Spartans (20-14) with 18 points and senior Austin Trice scored 17.

The Spartans won state titles in 2003 and 2001. They finished second in 1993 and third in 2010, this is the first time they’ve finished in fourth place.