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GIBSON CITY — The reserves on Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School's basketball team have worked all season to push and challenge the starters in practice.

During a Feb. 12 Heart of Illinois Conference road game, they thought of an additional way to make an impact.

How about sideline celebrations?

"We were sitting on the bench at LeRoy and we just decided we were going to start doing this and have some fun," junior Jordan Blake said.

The No. 3 state-ranked Falcons won that night, part of a 32-2 season that has them in the Class 2A State Tournament semifinals Friday at Peoria. They've won 31 in a row, with the most recent victories augmented by some creativity from the guys on the bench.

In a sectional final win over Central Catholic and during Tuesday's super-sectional victory over Pleasant Plains, they dropped to the floor, lined up as if in a canoe and began to row in unison.

When the Falcons make a 3-pointer, Blake occasionally will shoot an imaginary arrow into senior teammate Chris Hood, who falls backward into the arms of fellow senior Josh Bleich.

It's fun, yet there is a method to their March Madness.

"Sometimes if the game maybe isn't going our way and we get a big play, our celebrations will get the crowd going and get the players going on the court," Hood said.

They can lighten the mood in a pressurized environment.

"It kind of makes them (the players) remember it's just a game and we're having fun," Bleich said.

The regulars notice. How can you not?

"After you make a big play and you see them going crazy, it's just awesome," starting guard Ben Freehill said.

Head coach Ryan Tompkins and his assistant coaches missed the initial rowing formation, looking instead at the action on the opposite end of the court. It wasn't until Tompkins later saw a photo that he realized what had happened.

"They have fun with it and that's the best part, seeing guys have fun and seeing everybody who's part of the program contributing," Tompkins said.

"All we told them was to make sure you keep it classy and they have done that. They're good kids because not everybody would be that way. It would be easy to be upset or disgruntled (from not playing). They're finding a way to contribute and that's awesome."

Hood said the group has "a couple of things coming" for Friday's 7:15 p.m. game against top-ranked Nashville. He wouldn't reveal any more, saying, "We'll see what happens when we get there I guess."

As Tompkins said, "Everybody wants to play." With a talented senior class led by all-state candidates Ryland Holt and Bryce Barnes, it is a difficult lineup to crack.

Hood did early on when 13 of the basketball players were busy winning a second straight state football championship.

A soccer player in the fall, he started the first three games. Since then, his playing time has been limited.

"It was a lot of fun to start and play those games, but knowing my role now, it's great to be going to the Final Four," Hood said.

"We know that with all the players on our team, not everybody can be in the game at the same time. So if we can make an impact being on the bench, that's just as good as being out there on the court."

Bleich starred in football and will play that sport in college at McKendree. Being on the sideline in basketball and watching his teammates, including his twin brother, starting guard Caleb Bleich, isn't easy.

"As an athlete, it's pretty tough knowing you put in the work and you're not getting much playing time," Josh Bleich said. "But at the end of the day, you're working with the same guys on the court every single day to get better. We're going to support them no matter what, whether it be on the bench or on the floor."

Others who lend support behind GCMS' top seven are juniors Jordan Lee, Cade Elliott, Spencer Meenen, Nick Culler, Tanner Cribbett and Alex Meece.

"It means a lot," Caleb Bleich said. "Everyone puts in a lot of work. We're all just trying to make each other better."

"They push us to be our best," Freehill said. "It makes it a lot easier out there knowing they're pushing us but also supporting us at the same time."

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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