PEORIA—Hope Academy coach Antwon Johnson was moved to tears in the postgame press conference after the Eagles beat Newark 60-46 in the Class 1A third place game on Saturday at Carver Arena.
Senior guard Jared Doss reached over and put his hand on his coach’s shoulder. Then Ajani Parker did the same, then Justin Rodriguez.
“Some things just aren’t going to be the same,” Johnson said. “I’m going to miss these guys. My kids have probably never seen me emotional as this. They mean so much to me.”
Johnson took over at Hope Academy in 2012. The team went 9-12. Then Doss arrived and the pair slowly built the program together. The Eagles were 11-12 his freshman year, 15-5 his sophomore year and 15-6 his junior year.
“Everybody nowadays wants to transfer and make things easier for themselves,” Johnson said. “These young men stuck through the process and this is the end result. I’ve asked a lot of them, I’ve challenged them. I’ve really been on them every day from the time they entered school.
When you care about someone and they are part of your family those are the things that you do. One of our mottos is ‘The reason for discipline is to change behavior.’ These guys have bought into everything that I have asked of them. You won’t find a better group of young men.”
Doss became an All-City caliber player this season. His emergence helped lead the Eagles (29-4) to Peoria.
“It’s amazing,” Doss said. “This is our first appearance at state. Four years ago you would have never thought we’d be a state team.”
Doss scored 20 points. He was 5-for-10 from three-point range. It was a 180-degree turnaround for Hope Academy after its dismal shooting performance in the semifinals. The Eagles were 22-for-36 from field and 8-for-17 from three-point range.
Parker finished with 12 points and five rebounds and Javion May added 12 points and seven rebounds. Rodriguez scored nine.
The Norsemen (28-6) led by one at the half but managed just two baskets in the third quarter.
“We just had stretches when we can’t put the ball in the hole,” Newark coach Rick Tollefson said. “We just went real cold.”
Cameron Myre drained five three-pointers and led Newark with 19 points and five boards. Will Clausel also scored 19. Beau Brown (two points) and Dylan Patrick (six points) were the only other players to score for the Norsemen.
Newark won the Class 1A title in 2011. This was the first state appearance for Hope Academy.
“We are really proud to be here,” Tollefson said. “We just didn’t want to come home with fourth place.”
Effingham St. Anthony beat Okawville 49-46 in overtime to win the Class 1A state title. It’s the first state championship for the Bulldogs, they finished fourth in Class A in 1978.