West Central wins State title, Cougars recap a memorable season

West Central wins State title, Cougars recap a memorable season Main Photo

28 Mar 2024

News, Community Pride

By Ryne Turke
The Source Newspaper

The West Central Cougars Boys Basketball team capped off a season to remember with an IHSA 1A State Championship in Champaign earlier this month. 

While the Cougars victory has been the talk of the community, fans from Winchester and Bluffs believed a State Championship was in the cards from day one. 

The Cougars wasted little time proving to Central Illinois why they were consensus preseason WIVC favorites, winning their first six games. 

Heading into the Waverly Holiday Tournament with the #4 seed, West Central rode a wave of momentum into the championship game, defeating Auburn 64-52. 

As the #2 seed at the Winchester Invitational Tournament, West Central defeated Carrollton, Porta AC and Griggsville Perry to punch their ticket to the championship game. The Cougars proved to be too much for Routt Catholic, winning 49-34. 

Junior forward Carson Brown says playing in front of sold out Waverly and Winchester Tournament crowds played a big part in boosting the teams confidence. 
“At that point in the season we hadn’t played in any environment like that, so it was pretty cool. Those tournaments helped prepare us for a State Title run.”

In addition to claiming the two most coveted area tournament titles in the area, a pair of Cougars reached individual scoring milestones this season. 

All State guard Zack Evans scored his 2,000th career point and became West Central’s all time leading scorer, an honor Evans takes a ton of pride in. 

“That moment meant a lot because I looked up to Gabe Cox, who held the record before me. His work ethic was amazing and he always interacted with us younger kids. Breaking the record at Bluffs High School meant a lot, because that’s where it all started.”

All State forward Chance Little scored his 1,000th career point at North Greene in the final week of the regular season. 

West Central marched into the playoffs winning 22 of their previous 23 games, but that stretch wasn’t a cakewalk. 

Cougar players highlighted the tough competition in the area from teams like Williamsville, Camp Point, South County and Griggsville Perry. 

After winning the Liberty Regional, West Central mowed down Madison in the first round of North Greene Sectional 66-38. The Sectional Championship game vs Calhoun was a different story. 

Trailing by six points in the second half, the Cougars rallied late to pick up a 64-61 win, in what will go down as an all time classic between the conference rivals.

Evans scored 33 for the Cougars, Little chipped in with 13 and Mason Berry added 11. 

Next up, West Central made the trip to the Jacksonville Bowl to battle Illini Bluffs and 6’9” superstar forward Hank Alvey. 

Junior forward Caden Meyer, who’s 3 pointer off the bench provided a jolt of energy to the Cougars and crowd, says the environment was awesome to play in.

“Cougar nation played a big part in our games by swinging the momentum if we did something good. They were always there at our games cheering us on, so it felt amazing to hit that shot. The crowd was hyped and we gained the lead so it felt great.”

The Cougars once again provided some fourth quarter heroics to pull out a 46-42 win, earning a spot in the Final Four at the State Farm Center in Champaign. 

After two game of the year contenders, West Central saved their most impressive performance in a battle with Aurora Christian. 

Down eight points with four minutes left, West Central’s seniors took over, forcing not one, but two overtimes. Little scored a team high 33 points and hit 15 free throws, while Evans scored 17 and Berry finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. 

In the end, it was the defense that carried West Central to a 70-65 win, shutting out Aurora Christian 5-0 in the second overtime. 

Junior guard Cameron Sievers, one of the x-factors in West Central’s victory, gives his take on the game.

“We were down the whole game, but fought every last bit of it. I get put in and I’m told to be active on our press. We get like two or three steals and Zack and Mason both hit a three. Then I got a steal, got fouled and made a free throw. I think that part was the biggest in the game and the moment all the momentum switched to our side. After that we were just even more motivated to win.”

Evans notes the atmosphere was amazing.

“The Aurora Christian Semi Final game was a dog fight all the way into double overtime. It was cool to play at the State Farm Center, but what’s even cooler was how many fans traveled to watch us. Coming out of that nail bitter with a win in front of that crowd was incredible,” says Evans. 

West Central’s final test was a State Championship matchup with Mounds Meridian. Evans says Coach Ryan Sichting’s gameplan was flawless and gave the Cougars a huge advantage. 

“We knew Meridian was an extremely athletic team. Before the game coach told us if we rebound, run in transition, stay calm and play West Central basketball, then we will win. Coach puts countless hours into our game plans. He’s constantly watching film to pick up on things that might give us an advantage. I’d say he’s the best coach in the state.”

The Cougars were unstoppable, jumping out to an 8-0 lead, a 33-19 halftime lead and when the final buzzer sounded, a 62-43 State Championship victory. 
Evans scored 27, Little had 19 and Berry finished with 13 points. 

Sophomore guard Ryker Ford says his State Championship experience still doesn’t feel real. 

“Running on the court for the first time felt amazing. The lights were bright and it’s such a big stadium. Using the Illini locker room was like a dream and got us pumped up for the games.”

Ford added the leadership and chemistry from his senior teammates was something special. 

“They are a close group and our big leaders. If one of us was doing bad, they’d pick us up and I think that’s a big part of why we won the state championship.”

With a State Championship in the trophy case, West Central will look to the future, with hopes of reaching the mountain top yet again. 

The message from Evans to his teammates and future West Central Cougars is simple.

“Work as hard as you can for four years. Time goes by super fast when you put that WC jersey on. Play every play like it’s your last, you never know when it will be.”

West Central won their final 15 games of the season, finishing 36-3.