The Chester Yellow Jackets withstood a fourth quarter surge, Mother Nature and even the flu, to do what no other CHS team has done since 1976 -- win the Chester Invitational Tournament.
In a thrilling championship game delayed by weather and finally played on Jan. 16, the Yellow Jackets beat the Cobden Appleknockers 52-45 to keep the CIT championship trophy in Colbert Gym for the first time in 42 years.
"I will probably be walking around with a huge smile on my face for the weekend," said Chester Coach Brad Norman after the game, as the gym rocked with celebration. "I plan to go home and hug my wife, Sarah, who supports us the entire year."
To get to the championship game the Jackets beat the Valmeyer Pirates, 77-46, in the first round; and the Perryville Pirates, 71-37, in the second round.
Cobden beat Saxony Lutheran in Round 1, 66-49; and bested Valle Catholic 45-38 in Round 2.
Strong first half
Chester came out strong and led 20-11 after one quarter, behind the strong play of Keith Kiner III with 12 points, Ian Reith (6), and 2-for-2 free throw shooting by Colin Wingerter.
Just 8 seconds into the game Kiner made a statement, scoring on a layup. Just seconds later he scored on another hard move to the basket. He was fouled on the shot and made a free throw. Kiner even popped a 3-pointer during this run.
Cobden stayed close, however, and trailed by just one point, 9-8 with just 3:12 remaining in the first quarter. But Chester closed the door on the Appleknockers with a great, 11-2 run to end the quarter.
In the second quarter the Jackets went crazy with the three-ball. Colin Wingerter sank a pair as did DeOndre Martin. Add to that a free throw by Drake Bollman and Chester added another 13 points to its total.
Cobden's Joe Brumleve and Zane Nance scored four points apiece and Noah Franklin added a field goal to give the Appleknockers 10 more points. Chester enjoyed a comfortable 12-point lead, 33-21, at the half.
Cobden fights back
Cobden came out of the locker room after halftime with renewed energy. Chester, on the other hand, seemed a bit sluggish. The Appleknockers opened the half with a 7-3 run and trailed by just eight points at the 5:13 mark in the third.
Cobden's run continued to 10-6 at the 2:26 mark, shrinking Chester's lead, 39-31. Drake Bollman then connected for a 3-pointer with 18 seconds in the third to extend the Yellow Jackets' lead to 42-33 at the end of three quarters of action.
During that stretch Drake Bollman added a pair of three-pointers, DeOndre Martin added a field goal and Keith Kiner put in one free throw for Chester's nine point period.
If the Jacket offense appeared to be rather stagnant in the third, Cobden's came to life. Appleknockers Noah Franklin and Zane Nance scored 12 points: Franklin with two field goals and a 3-pointer; and Nance with a three and a two-pointer. Cobden outscored the Yellowjackets 12-9 in the third.
Chester's funk continued as the fourth quarter opened. Neither team scored for the first 30 seconds, but the Appleknockers hit a field goal at the 6:28 mark to pull within seven, 42-35. Cobden got a steal with 5:36 to go, converted it, and now Cobden was within 5.
Chester fans were getting a bit uncomfortable, and the Jackets didn't score again until the 4:29 mark when Kiner got to the free throw line -- one of 14 trips to the line for Chester in the fourth quarter alone. Kiner made his first throw and the Jackets extended the lead to 43-37.
Cobden didn't sit still, however. Joe Brumleve put the ball into the hoop to shrink Chester's lead to 4 points, 43-39. The score was unchanged until 3:30 left in the game, when DeOndre Martin stole the ball and hit a field goal, extending the Chester lead to 45-39.
With just 1:56 to go, Cobden had to start fouling to stop the clock. Jakob Cushman made the front end of a one-and-one and CHS led, 46-39. He missed the back end.
Drake Bollman made a free throw at 1:33 to give the Jackets a 47-39 lead. He missed the second. Bollman got a key steal with 1:10 to go and got the ball to DeOndre Martin who was fouled and went to the free throw line. He hit the first and missed the second, for a 48-39 Chester lead with 1:07 left.
At this point Chester fans began to relax. But as the clock ticked down the Appleknockers showed why they have historically been such a good team.
With just 45 seconds left, Cobden's Zane Nance hit a field goal to pull his team to within seven points, 48-41. Chester's DeOndre Martin made a pair of free throws to re-extend to nine points, 50-41 with 39 seconds left.
The Yellow Jacket free throw parade wasn't over yet. Kiner went to the line with 12.9 seconds to play and made one free shot. Chester led, 51-41. The seesaw continued to rock in the final seconds as Cobden would score again to pull within eight points, 51-43 with 14 seconds remaining.
In the final 14 seconds Jakob Cushman was fouled and one of two free throws to give the Jackets what everyone though was a final, 52-43 knockout punch. AS time expired, however, Cobden's Landon Britt sank a desperation field goal to add two more points.
Norman said after the game that the Jackets played "timid" in the second half.
"I have to give props to Cobden," he said. "They made a great run in the second half and played hard. Zane Nance played really well."
On top of that, Norman said, Chester's Jakob Cushman played with the flu. "He showed great character tonight to play sick," he added.
Norman said he is proud of his players, the schools, the fans and the parents, and is pleased with how the tournament has evolved over the years.
"I really think our program has taken a turn for the better," in the last few years, Norman said.
"We have continued to build, build and build. Our kids are dedicated and work hard to be successful. This tournament also been built up and is now featuring good competition."
Norman is one of only two Chester coaches to win the CIT. The other, Jim Hinkle, coached the Yellow Jackets to tournament titles in 1975 and 1976.
As happy as he is to win the CIT, however, Norman still has his eyes focused squarely on the prize.
"I plan to enjoy this win for a day or two and then we have a Black Diamond Conference championship to win," he said. "We will take one game at a time and finish our conference season before we attack the post season.
"We have played a hard schedule this year and are ready to face the conference and the post season!"
With the win, the Yellow Jackets are 13-5 on the year and 3-0 in the Black Diamond Conference.
Immediately following the game, CHS Athletic Director Jeremy Blechle presented the runner-up trophy to Cobden and the championship trophy to the Chester Yellow Jackets. Each Jacket player also received a championship medal.
Members of the 2019 CIT All-Tournament Team will be announced following the completion of the final game, to be played Jan. 30 between Valle and Perryville. All votes should be turned in to Blechle by Jan. 31.
• Game stats: Chester was led by Keith Kiner III with 15 points, all but 3 of them in the first half. He was followed by DeOndre Martin (13), Drake Bollman (8), Colin Wagner (8), Ian Reith (6), and Jakob Cushman (2). The Jackets shot 13 of 22 from the free throw line, or 59 percent. Cobden was led by Zane Nance with 13 points; followed by Noah Franklin (10), Landon Britt (8), Joe Brumleve (8), and Dylan Lewey (6). The Knockers shot 5 of 7 from the free throw line, for 71 percent.