Rams win consolation title over host Salem

Brandyn Wilcoxen , Sports Editor

The Mt. Vernon Rams basketball team has participated in each installment of the Salem Invitational Tournament since 1989. So have the host Salem Wildcats, which makes the potential for a clash between the two schools seemingly inevitable; especially in recent years, where their similar degrees of success have led to six matchups – five of which emanating from B.E. Gum Gymnasium in Salem – between them in the past three seasons. Despite the numerous opportunities to top the Wildcats on their home court, the Rams have gone 0-5 in those games dating back to their most recent win on January 23, 2014.

2020’s iteration of the tournament saw the matchup once again set itself up by virtue of Salem’s 30-point thrashing of Highland on Saturday morning and Mt. Vernon taking care of business against TF North later that afternoon. Those wins scheduled the Rams and Wildcats to face off one final time in 2020 in the SIT Consolation championship game.

This year’s Rams are no strangers to the Wildcats; although they reigned victorious at Stanley A. Changnon Gymnasium in early January, three road losses against Salem in 2018-19 still linger on the minds of those on the team and those supporting the Rams from the stands. While Mt. Vernon took care of them at home – one of eleven consecutive home victories and counting – the question remained of whether or not they could shake the narrative built through years of failure and finally beat the Salem Wildcats at B.E. Gum Gymnasium.

Many of the Ram faithful initially predicted a top two finish at the Salem Invitational Tournament, avoiding the consolation bracket altogether, but that notion was spoiled by the surging Effingham Flaming Hearts, who were led by a three-point storm by eventual All-Tournament First Teamers Parker Wolfe and Nate Thompson to a 70-64 victory on Thursday night.

And thus, the Rams had a clear path to the consolation championship game, during which they barely held on to a lead through the final buzzer, when the scoreboard read 50-47 in favor of the victorious Mt. Vernon Rams. As well as their first win against the hosting Wildcats in six years, this marked the second consecutive Consolation championship won by the Rams after a similar run through the Centralia Holiday Tournament in December.

Leading the charge for Mt. Vernon in the 69th annual mid-winter tournament was Quani Rudd, ‘21 with 21 points, 13 points, and 8 points across the Effingham, TF North, and Salem games; his 42-point tournament was good for First Team All-Tournament, a feat last accomplished by a Ram in 2019 by current Rend Lake Warriors pitcher Weston Brockhouse, ‘19. Jackson Creel, ‘20 joined Rudd with a Second Team All-Tournament performance of 47 points – 14, 22, and 11 in each individual game. Simon Wilson, ‘20, a recent recipient of a scholarship offer from Southwest Illinois College, racked up 27 points; Carson Prost, ‘21, who is averaging over 10 points per game this season, accounted for 25 points; Amir Spann, ‘20, Mt. Vernon’s 2019 representative on the SIT All-Tournament Second Team, had 24 total points; and Hunter Simmons, ‘21 scored 4 points.

The Mt. Vernon Rams (15-5, 3-2) will put their 11-game winning streak at Stanley A. Changnon Gymnasium on the line against the Carbondale Terriers (16-5, 4-1) on Friday, January 31. The pivotal matchup will give the winner a huge advantage going into the final month of the South Seven conference race, as the Terriers are currently the top team in the standings. Tip off for the JV game is scheduled for 6:15, with the Varsity game to follow.