Unfortunately for the West Frankfort Redbirds, Max Morris Gymnasium was just another stop during the Harrisburg Bulldogs' special season Friday night.
Harrisburg won its 15th-straight game with a 76-54 rout of the Redbirds in Southern Illinois River-to-River Ohio Division play in West Frankfort.
The Bulldogs (16-0), which also won at Benton Saturday, used an 18-0 run between the first and second quarters to put away the Redbirds, who jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead.
This was the second-straight game between the two teams where West Frankfort (3-9, 0-4) led early but couldn't keep up with the state-ranked Bulldogs down the stretch. The Redbirds led after one quarter at the Eldorado Holiday Tournament last week, before eventually losing as well.
"I thought we played hard, but Harrisburg is a special team," West Frankfort coach Dan Dewerff. "They haven't lost yet and they are the second-ranked team in the state. They have three guys out there who have been starting since they were freshmen. They have a lot of talent."
Early on, West Frankfort looked just as talented. The Redbirds' Trenton Easley got West Frankfort on the board when he drew a foul on Harrisburg's Eli Taborn-Scott and hit two free-throws to give West Frankfort an early 2-0 lead.
After Taborn-Scott tied the game at 2-2, West Frankfort's Gage Williams answered right back to give the Redbirds a 4-2 advantage.
Taborn-Scott scored again to tie the game at 4-4, but West Frankfort answered in a big way. The Redbirds scored the next six points on buckets from Braxston Koehl, Zach Fort and Easley to go ahead, 10-4.
Harrisburg then missed a 3-pointer and turned the ball over on its next possession, forcing Bulldogs coach Randy Smithpeters to call a timeout with 4:01 remaining in the first quarter.
Harrisburg then stormed out of the timeout and scored the next 18 points. After Taborn-Scott drew a foul and missed both free-throws, the Bulldogs got the rebound and found Dakota Upchurch for a layup that made it 10-6.
Harrisburg then put on a press that frustrated the Redbirds the rest of the night.
The pressure immediately resulted in a Tyler Smithpeters steal and layup that cut the Redbirds' lead to just 10-8 with 3:15 remaining in the opening frame.
West Frankfort called a timeout to try and kill the Bulldogs' momentum, but it was unsuccessful. The Redbirds threw the ball away on their next possession, which allowed Capel Henshaw to tie the game at 10-10 with 2:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Henshaw then got another steal and bucket to put Harrisburg ahead for the first time, 12-10.
The Redbirds' woes continued as Taborn-Scott got a steal and layup off the press to make it 14-10 with a minute remaining in the first quarter.
Page 2 of 3 - Taborn-Scott also hit a jumper at the buzzer to make it 16-10 at the end of the first period.
"We got in too big of a hurry and they took our turnovers and turned them into easy baskets," Dewerff said. "Hopefully we can learn from it because we will play them at least one more time. Playing against them will help us when we play another team that slaps a press on us."
The Redbirds continued to struggle in the second quarter as well. Harrisburg continued its big run with the first six points of the second period before Koehl hit a 3-pointer to finally end the 18-point run and bring the Redbirds within, 22-13.
Unfortunately for the Redbirds, they couldn't match the run with one of their own. Harrisburg answered right back with buckets from Upchurch and Tyler Smithpeters to extend the lead to 26-13.
After Easley trimmed the margin to 26-15, Harrisburg reeled off seven-straight points. Henshaw and Upchurch hit layups and Ryne Roper made a 3-pointer to make it 33-15 with 3:15 left in the first half.
West Frankfort's Williams cut it to 33-17, but the Bulldogs then scored five-straight on a Tyler Smithpeters free-throw and layups from Henshaw and Taborn-Scott to make it 38-17 with 2:12 left in the second.
After a Redbirds timeout, West Frankfort's Christian Dunnning hit a 3-pointer to pull his team back within 38-20.
Roper then extended it to 40-20 with 1:15 remaining, but West Frankfort's Evan Keller cut it back to 40-22.
Roper then hit a 3-pointer to stretch it to 43-22, but Easley answered right back with a triple of his own to make it 43-25.
Roper then sent Harrisburg into halftime with a 46-25 lead after a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Redbirds tried to rally at the start of the third quarter. West Frankfort scored the first four points of the second half and managed to only get outscored by one in the quarter, 17-16.
West Frankfort played Harrisburg even in the fourth quarter as well, as both teams each only scored 13 points.
"I thought we kept competing and playing hard," Dewerff said. "We kept it respectable. We want to win and we play to win, but Harrisburg plays hard and they have a lot of talent. We kept working to get better and we were still looking for a good shot even when we were down 20. That's all I can ask. I was proud of them."
Easley led the Redbirds with a game-high 16 points, which included a 3-pointer and a 5-for-5 performance at the charity stripe. He was the only West Frankfort player in double figures as Williams chipped in nine, Dunning had eight and Fort had seven. Koehl added five and Ethan Sisk had four, while Jacob Bartoni and Evan Keller each had two and Drew Maller scored one.
Page 3 of 3 - Tyler Smithpeters and Roper each had 14 to pace five Bulldogs in double figures. Taborn-Scott had 14, Dakota Upchurch chipped in 11 and Henshaw added 10.
The Redbirds will return to action when they host Hamilton County on Tuesday. The Redbirds will then travel to Murphysboro Friday night, before beginning play in their Mid-Winter Classic next week.
"I'm not concerned with how hard we are going to play," Dewerff said. "It's going to come down to if we can execute and keep our turnovers down at the same time."