Redbirds win nail-biter

Dylan Polk TimesNewspapers
Metamora junior Nate Kennell goes up for a shot against Morton sophomore Ryan Altenberger during Saturday’s game at Metamora.

Down 21-14 at the half, Metamora was in need of a rally in Saturday’s matchup against Mid-Illini Conference rival Morton.

An 18-point performance from two starters — plus a defensive effort that held the Potters in check in the second half — proved to be just what the Redbirds needed as they held on to win a 46-40 thriller for their first conference win of the season.

It was a game that saw Metamora shooters hit just the right shots at just the right moments. Metamora junior Nate Kennell shot 6 for 24 from the field, and senior Josh Dixon shot 7 for 12, but both notched 18 points; Kennell hit 10 in the fourth, while Dixon notched seven, aiding an 18-12 fourth-quarter that carried the Redbirds to a win.

“Like I told the guys all week long, we can’t make any excuses,” said Metamora coach Danny Grieves. “We had four starters out sick all week long, and one of them (senior Merritt Stott) is still at the house. … So none of them practiced all week, but like I told them, I said, we can make excuses or we can get it done.”

Both teams played closely through the first half, though Morton was held a seven-point lead headed into halftime.

In the third quarter, however, Metamora’s defense was able to hold the Potters to seven points, while Redbird shooters pulled Metamora to within four, down 28-24 after three.

The Redbirds picked up steam in a wild fourth quarter, opening with a 9-2 run to take a 33-28 lead.

The Potters weren’t done yet, however, narrowing the lead to two with a 3-pointer by senior Jared Liddle and cutting Metamora’s lead to 39-37 with 1 minute, 38 seconds remaining. Liddle’s shot would prove to be Morton’s final field goal of the night, one of just two in the fourth quarter. A pair of free throws by Metamora senior Jon Herr put Metamora up 41-37, but Liddle would step to the line again after being fouled by Dixon — his fifth of the game. Liddle hit 1 of 2 to cut the lead to three points, but Metamora again pulled ahead by five, up 43-38 with 26.5 seconds remaining.

The Potters would again cut into the Redbirds’ lead, down 43-40 with 23.6 left, but an intentional foul called on Morton senior Zach Ham put Herr back at the line and gave the Redbirds possession.

After Herr knocked down 1 of 2 shots from the line, a final Metamora field goal would prove to be the dagger.

“We didn’t stop fighting for a second,” said Morton coach Jarrett Brown. “They just made a couple plays and made the foul shots down the stretch, and we turned it over five times. So they did things well enough to win, but we fought well enough to win too.”

Kennell led the Redbirds from the free-throw line, shooting 5 for 6 with four shots made in the fourth quarter.

Liddle led the Potters offensively with 16 points, shooting 5 for 9 from the field with three 3-pointers. Senior Zach Ham and sophomore Ryan Altenberger followed with nine points apiece. Altenberger shot 4 for 4 from the free-throw line.

Metamora improves to 5-0 on the season with the win, while Morton falls to 1-5.