Central Catholic guard James Morris looks to pass against the defense of University High forward Mark Widdel during the Saints' 58-46 victory Jan. 9 at Normal. Morris and the Class 2A No. 8-ranked Saints play at No. 6 Monticello on Friday.

Jason Welch played in Monticello’s Miller Gym while in high school. He recalls it having “a nice shooting background.”

The Central Catholic coach remembers something else, too.

“The gym isn’t real big,” Welch said. “My guess is it’s going to be packed. The environment is going to be electric.”

Friday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup offers plenty of juice, with Monticello ranked sixth in the Class 2A state poll and the Saints at No. 8. The winner will be alone in first place in the inaugural Illini Prairie Conference race.

Central (18-5 overall) has won 12 straight and is 7-0 in the Illini Prairie. Monticello (18-1) has an 11-game win streak and is 6-0 in the league.

Monticello is led by 6-foot-6 senior Calvin Fisher at 15.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Six-four center Luke Stokowski adds 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds, while 6-3 forward Benton Singleton is at 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds.

“They’re somewhat like us in that they have multiple guys who can score the basketball,” Welch said. “That presents issues. You can’t just say there’s one guy and if we lock him down we’re in great shape. They have several guys.

“I think ultimately they’re going to try to pound it inside. They’re a tough team. We’re going to have to rise to that challenge. We’re very hopeful we can get it done, but on the flip side we respect their program a lot. Coach (Kevin) Roy does a great job with them.”

Monticello’s loss was 37-35 to Ridgeview on Dec. 29 in the Sages Holiday Hoopla at Monticello. It is the only game the Sages have scored fewer than 50 points.

Central opened the season 0-4 in the Intercity Tournament. The lone loss since then was 61-59 in overtime to Class 1A No. 1-ranked Aurora Christian in the State Farm Holiday Classic small school championship game.

The Saints have six players between 8.7 and 13.5 points per game, led by senior forward Jack Gilmore. James Morris is at 11.6, followed by Austyn Ellison (11.4), Tommy Nelson (9.3), Eli Davis (9.1) and Luke Yoder (8.7).

Welch expects Friday’s environment to be good preparation for the postseason, saying, “It gives you the feeling of that tension and pressure and you can get a good idea of how you might respond to that situation.”

Welch said the Saints are healthy and have become “selfless” with their play.

“We have seven guys (in the rotation) who are willing to give up the ‘me’ for the ‘we,’ ” Welch said. “Once we got that, it’s been really fun to work with them. They strive to give up themselves and they trust each other. There are not many teams that are willing to do that.”

The Saints play a nonconference game Saturday against Williamsville at the Riverton Coaches vs. Cancer Shootout. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred


Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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