Heading into their tilt with Willow Springs in the finals of the Class 3 District 11 Tournament, there is no doubt that the Alton Comets were not fooled by the Bears' sub-.500 record (12-13).
After all, it was just two nights earlier that Willow Springs had pulled a massive upset by knocking off the tourney's number one seed and one of the best Class 3 teams in the state, Mountain Grove, 58-57, on a last-second 3-pointer. This after the Bears had trailed by as many as 19 in the game against the Panthers.
There is also no doubt that the third-seeded Comets wanted to start fast and finish strong to not give the fourth-seeded Bears any hopes of pulling off another upset.
As it turned out, Alton did everything but start fast and finish strong, as Willow Springs pushed past the Comets (21-6) 70-49 March 4 at Mountain View/Birch Tree Liberty High School to claim the district title and earn a berth in the state sectionals.
From the outset, it was evident that Willow Springs brought its "A" game.
Ray Bowen opened the contest with a 3-pointer for the Bears, and Willow Springs never looked back.
With Alton down 14-7 late in the first, the Bears closed the frame like they opened it, as Josh Kraus, who hit the game-winner against Mountain Grove, sank a trey at the buzzer to push Willow Springs on top 17-7.
The Comets didn't throw in the towel in the second, but they just couldn't build enough momentum to overtake their fired-up opponent.
The Comets did get what basically turned out to be a 5-point play early in the second.
Ben Whitten (six points) canned Alton's first 3-ball of the night at the 6:58 mark, and as his shot went through the net, Willow Springs was called for a holding foul on Dustin Tackitt, giving the ball back to the Comets.
Alex Wiggs made sure this extra possession was not in vain by tossing in a floating layup to cap a 5-0 run for the Comets, pulling them within seven, 19-12. Wiggs had another huge evening for Alton by pacing his team with 23 points.
Free throw shooting in the second cost Alton a chance to pull even closer to Willow Springs in the stanza.
The Comets shot two-of-seven from the charity stripe in the second and were in a 26-16 hole at the half.
Still, Alton showed signs of life early in the third, as Tackitt came out of the locker room with his lunchpail and hardhat, ready to go to work down low.
Taking advantage of a couple of quick Willow Springs' turnovers in the first minute and a half of the third, Tackitt (eight points) hit the boards hard for Alton, racking up two putbacks and a baseline shot for a 6-zip burst that saw the Comets trailing by just four, 26-22.
Four points turned out be as close as Alton would get to the Bears, as Willow Springs pulled itself together and started to pull away from Alton midway into the third.
The Comets just could not string together back-to-back stops on defense that might have turned the tide. Instead, the Bears took a 41-33 lead to the final frame.
Opening the fourth with a 7-0 blitz, Willow Springs extended its advantage to 48-33, forcing the Comets to battle the clock as well as the Bears during the game's last eight minutes.
Free throws were the story of the fourth period, with the two teams combining to sink 22 charity tosses in the stanza. A stanza in which the Comets found themselves buried too deep to climb out, with the Bears finishing with a 70-49 victory.
Logan Simpson logged seven points for Alton, while Seth Roberts had four, and Jon Barton one.
In the semi-final round, Alton powered past the seventh-seeded Houston Tigers 57-43 March 2, after trailing the Tigers in the first half.
Down 27-21 at the half, the Comets came out ripping after intermission to outscore Houston 17-4 in the third period, gaining control of a game they would win by 14 points.
Wiggs posted a game-high 35 for Alton, with Simpson adding eight, McEllmurry seven, and Tackitt five.
The Comets survived a late rally by Seymour to get out of the first round 49-47 Feb. 28.
Alton held a 43-34 lead after three, but Seymour outscored the Comets 13-6 to come close to victory, but the Comets held on by two points.
Wiggs paced the Comets with 20 points, while Simpson and Tackitt followed with nine points apiece. Whitten finished with three, while Ben Alexander, Barton, Ryan McEllmurry and Roberts posted two points each for Alton.