Two starters out? No problem. Again.
For the second straight game, the Pekin boys basketball team overcame the absence of injured starters Max Jones (foot) and Justin Taphorn (ankle).
The Dragons beat Normal West 54-43 Friday night in Custer-Stoudt Gym in a consolation bracket semifinal game in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament.
The win sent Pekin to the consolation championship game Saturday afternoon against Peoria Richwoods.
Jones was hurt Thursday night in Pekin’s opening-round tournament loss to Lake Zurich in Hawkins Gym. Taphorn was injured Friday afternoon early in a consolation win over Freeport in Custer-Stoudt Gym.
Beating Freeport and Normal West on the same day -- Pekin coach Jeff Walraven’s 42nd birthday -- meant the Dragons got to finish the tournament it hosts in Hawkins Gym.
“The games downstairs (in Custer-Stoudt Gym) are hard-fought because teams want to get back upstairs (to Hawkins Gym),” Walraven said.
The Pekin-Normal West game fit Walraven’s description. It was physical, with a player on each team charged with a technical foul, not on the same play.
Adam Cash was money for the Dragons (6-8). The sophomore guard poured in 22 points, going 6-for-10 on 3-pointers.
It was a historic game for Patrick Torrey. Pekin’s 6-foot-7 senior center had 13 points, nine rebounds and the first dunk of his career, a thunderous uncontested left-handed slam that gave Pekin a 52-41 lead late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m right-handed, but I usually dunk with my left hand,” Torrey said.
Tyler Durr contributed seven points and Brady Grashoff had six points and six rebounds for Pekin.
Cooper Theleritis, who is getting additional playing time in Jones’ absence, knocked down two huge baskets for the Dragons in the final minute in the third quarter.
His triple and buzzer-beating midrange jumper extended Pekin’s lead from a precarious 34-30 to 39-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
“Those baskets (Theleritis’ only points of the night) gave us some momentum,” Walraven said.
Pekin got off to a fast start, making its first four shots and taking a 10-3 lead a little more than two minutes into the game.
A 12-point run by Normal West (3-9) gave the Wildcats a 17-14 lead with 5:38 to go in the second quarter, but the Dragons scored the final eight points of the first half -- five by Torrey, three by Cash -- to move in front 22-17 at halftime.
Pekin led the rest of the way. Normal West climbed no closer than three points (31-28). A triple by Cash and Theleritis’ heroics gave the Dragons some breathing room.
Shea Cupples led Normal West with 14 points. His team was just 4-for-21 on triples.
“I know Normal West is struggling this season, but anytime you can beat them, it’s a good accomplishment,” Walraven said.
What did the coach think about his team winning twice on his birthday?
“That was a nice present,” he said.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.