By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Before taking the floor for the final possession Friday night, Quincy High School boys basketball coach Sean Taylor had one thing to say to junior guard Martin Kvitle.
“Coach was like, ‘Martin, finish it off,'” Kvitle said.
He knew exactly how.
Kvitle buried a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining to lift Quincy to a 51-48 victory over Rock Island at Blue Devil Gym, giving the Blue Devils a share of the Western Big Six Conference championship and running their regular season-ending winning streak to nine straight games.
“It makes it even more special that it was against Rocky,” Kvitle said. “We all hate Rocky.”
By winning its league-record 20th title, Quincy denied Rock Island the chance to win back-to-back outright WB6 championships. The two teams tied for first place at 7-3, marking the first time in league history the conference champion lost as many as three times.
In Quincy’s case, those three losses are a distant memory. The Blue Devils (19-6) won their final five WB6 games to erase the two-game deficit they faced after losing at Rock Island on Jan. 20.
“When it comes down to it, they were tough and it was a battle,” Kvitle said. “They hate us. We hate them. We got the last punch it looks like that knocked them out.”
That was only after Rock Island (15-11) delivered a couple punches of its own.
A pair of Mason Fairley free throws with 43.1 seconds remaining gave Quincy a 48-44 lead, but Rock Island made it a one-possession game on Denzel McCauley’s tip-in with 28 seconds to go. The Blue Devils struggled to get the ball inbounded, and Rocky’s C.J. Carr swiped the inbounds pass.
After a Rock Island timeout, the Rocks inbounded the ball to Brian Richardson on the right block. He spun around a defender and made a point-blank layin to tie the game with 15 seconds remaining.
“A few balls didn’t bounce our way,” Quincy guard Mason Fairley said. “But it’s amazing that a team can stick together like that and get through it and take care of business.”
After Richardson’s basket, Quincy hurried the ball into the frontcourt and took a timeout with 10.4 seconds remaining. On the ensuing play, the Blue Devils got the ball to Fairley in the corner and he tried to drive the baseline until being cut off by McCauley.
It forced Quincy to use its last timeout with 5.1 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils didn’t need another one.
Fairley inbounded the ball to Kvitle coming off a screen by Dean, and Kvitle briefly looked to the post for Dean turning around. Without an open look inside, Kvitle didn’t hesitate and buried his fifth 3-pointer of the game.
“If (DeAngelo) was wide open, I was going to pass to him,” Kvitle said. “He’s got a better chance of making it, and if he gets fouled, he’s so good. But he wasn’t open, So I was saying, ‘You know what, just let it fly.'”
That was after he had missed four field goals earlier in the fourth quarter.
“I couldn’t find it,” Kvitle said. “I had to think one of them was going to fall.”
All of his threes did. Kvitle scored a career-high 25 points, going 5 for 5 from 3-point range and adding four assists.
“Fantastic,” Fairley said of Kvitle’s effort. “He stepped up tonight and took the load on himself. He kind of put the team on his back. Every game that you win, you have to have somebody able to do that.”
With so much attention being paid to Dean, who is Quincy’s leading scorer at more than 18 points per game, the Blue Devils had to have production elsewhere.
Dean finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Fairley had eight points and Mike Davis added six, including making two critical transition baskets early in the fourth quarter. One of those came off a Harrison Elbe steal as Quincy’s defensive stopper helped force 19 Rocky turnovers.
“They should all get just as much praise as I do,” Kvitle said. “Everybody played a role.”
Trae Babers came off the bench to lead Rocky with 12 points and Richardson had 10, while the Rocks’ top two scorers — Marquel Beasley and McCauley — were limited to eight and six points, respectively.
Still, it took every possession for Quincy to find a way to win.
“We battled to the end and we never gave up when we were down,” Dean said. “That’s how you do it.”
Beating an archrival made it just a little sweeter, too.
“To beat a team like this in an environment like this on a shot like that is a great way to end the regular season,” QHS coach Sean Taylor said. “A great way.”